When John and I wandered the central Ruahine Range for eight days last November, I saw how he gazed out over the cloud enveloped headwaters of the Pourangaki; sat in the sun above Pinnacle Creek and looked out over the head of the Kawhatau and on into the blue distance; lay back in the snowgrass at the top of the Mania Track, listening to the wind, trying to absorb the nature of the land and breathe in the sky, trying to notice everything. How he seemed to be storing it all up, building memories, a store of solace for the dismal London winter to which he would soon return.
I think I understood how he felt. Now, I not only understand it—I feel it. In less than a month, I leave Aotearoa; I fly out from New Zealand for India and, eventually, Africa. A departure, and an arrival.
Barring the unforeseen, I close the door in the early morning of the 1st of November, make my way to the airport and fly to Auckland. Later that day the big jet will speed me away from the place where I was born, to a place I've never been. Leaving home? No—I prefer to think my home comes with me.
However, the problem with saying my home travels with me is that it suggests I'm closed, I'm insulated in my small world. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth—I try to remain open, at least as far as reasonable common sense allows. Perhaps it's better to say my home opens out? Where are the walls of a home? When you step outside and close your door behind you, have you departed from your home? You walk to the edge of the terrace and look out over the evening valley—are you at home? You fall asleep under a bivvy rock in the Darrans, on a different island—are you at home? .
At the top of No. 2 Line, I circle slowly on the bike, recovering from a fast, hard climb. The view from the end of the road goes on, seemingly forever. Over deep valleys, endless hills receding; cloud looming; a glimpse of late snow on the shadowed mountains. In the valley below, vivid greens and russets—spring grass and the flush of new leaves on willows and poplars. Already, Azolla, the water fern, has begun to spread its pinkish-red mat over the burnished waters behind farm dams. Patry wasn't wrong when she said I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And this is my home; I feel at home here. I understand this, but I also realise “home” can be a matter of degree; to insist, “This is home and that is not,” is to fall into a dualistic trap. Even to say, “Here I feel at home and there I do not,” has elements of that dualism. Perhaps the important question is, “To what degree do I feel at home here?”
Yesterday MB left a comment remarking on the resemblance of some of my photos to the landscapes in which she lives. She's landlocked, far from the sea, yet something about the photo along the coast seemed familiar. I've noticed this when I travel: that tendency to compare landscapes, to recognise what's familiar. I wonder whether we do this to feel more at home?
When we do this, what prejudices do we bring? How does it prevent us from coming to know the true nature of a place?
There's much truth in Yi-Fu Tuan's aphorism, but the more I mull over it, the more I begin to think perhaps “security” isn't quite the right word—for me, at least. “Ease” or “comfort” seems to fit better—or am I confusing place with home? Or maybe it's Yi-Fu Tuan who equates place and home? For me, place is an element of home; sometimes strong, sometimes subtle—possibly necessary but never sufficient.
I circle once more, and begin the descent, gravel crackling under the tyres, the rush of a wheel twitch around a corner reminding me of the fragility of a life. I wonder if, for me, “Home is comfort, space is freedom: I am attached to the one and long for the other”. But even that seems unsatisfactory. Attachment and longing—these are feelings that are slowly becoming strangers to me; paradoxically, these seem increasingly unnecessary while the delight and joy of being with my friends and where I am grows. Perhaps that's good—but one feeling will never be unfamiliar.
I'll always wonder.
The details, and housekeeping:
I arrive in Delhi on 2 November; soon after, I'll make my way to the Garwhal and Kumaon regions, the foothills of the Himalaya. I don't know how far in I'll get—winter will be on the way and I'm not built for the cold. When I can't bear it any longer I'll move South, probably into Rajasthan and on to Gujarat. After that, who knows. Where my feet take me, I suppose. When I find somewhere that feels right, I'll settle for a while—a month or so, then move on.
Five months later, at the end of March, I fly to Ghana. Three weeks there, then a week and a half in northern South Africa, then up to Malawi for a month, all of May. At the beginning of June I head for the UK to catch up with friends and relatives for a week, then on to Paris for a week with friends. Then I'm back—I almost said “home”—to Aotearoa/New Zealand, in late June 2007.
That's the plan, almost as much of it as is confirmed. Whether it happens remains to be seen, but I trust it'll go something like that. There will be great times and there will be ... memorable times.
As for the blog... Sorry, but don't expect much while I'm away. Yes, there will be internet cafes, but there's more to life than hunting for the next internet connection—far more. I'll publish a few more posts before I depart, but from November until July next year, "pohanginapete" will be fairly quiet. If you want to be notified when I do publish a new post, send me an email and I'll put you on the list . I'm unlikely to be able to process photos so they'll be few and far between. However, I will be photographing, and I will be writing—by hand, with a pen, on paper. When I return to Aotearoa—and, with luck, the Pohangina Valley (although that's uncertain)—I expect to have a substantial amount to work on. I don't want to say there will be a book, because every time I say that, it seems to get harder. But...
The travels also mean I won't be commenting on other blogs, or only rarely. Again, I'm sorry; I know how good it is to hear other people's responses, and know I've been remiss in staying silent when even a stone (o) or a :^) would convey what's important. I know it sounds facile, but please trust me—I won't forget you. I'll miss you, too.
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
Maku e ki atu
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
1. P. 3 in Tuan, Yi-Fu 1977: Space and place: the perspective of experience. London, Edward Arnold. 235 pp. ISBN 0-7131-5971-5.
3. For reasons beyond my understanding, RSS feeds don't seem to work for this blog—when I try to verify the feed I get a truckload of error messages. Sorry.
1, 2 & 4. Coast at dusk, Burdan's Gate, near Eastbourne, Wellington harbour.
3. Tui (Prosthemadera novaezealandiae) and kowhai (Sophora sp.), Williams Park, Days Bay, Eastbourne.
5. Little shag (kawaupaka, Phalacrocorax melanoleucos), Williams Park.
Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor