05 October 2006

Departure

Place is security, space is freedom: we are attached to the one and long for the other.”
—Yi-Fu Tuan [1]


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 Burdan's Gate shoreway 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? [2].

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 [3]. 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.


Notes:
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.
2. Yes.
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.

Photos (click the smaller photos to enlarge them):
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

44 comments:

Mary said...

A beautiful, elegaic post, Pete. So much in it to ponder for me at the moment.

*To what degree do I feel at home here?*

Looking forward to the posts before 1st November. And you will indeed be very much missed.

But equally it will be good to see/read you when you return.

herhimnbryn said...

May your road rise up to meet you!
Sounds like an amazing journey P. Like Mary I look forward to your posts before Nov and then ......fare you well.

butuki said...

Wow, that hit me, unexpectedly, pretty hard. For a number of reasons.

First, to share in your joy of anticipating a journey and then knowing the preciousness of wandering...

Second, feeling great jealousy (though I'm berating myself for feeling so) at your freedom..

Third, and I'm not ashamed to admit it, just when I thought I was getting to know someone who could be become a good friend, you disappear (at least for a while). I've been needing good friends...

But the moment I get the chance to head out that door again, I, too, will "vanish" on a long journey, so I completely and with deep joy understand...

Though I don't believe in the Christian god, one word I love dearly is "Godspeed". So, "Godspeed", but as slowly as slow can be.

butuki said...

ps...I swear that little shag is you in a feather costume. I am right, am I not? (•J•)/"

isabelita said...

I hope you have a marvelous journey, and whatever you find time to write and photograph will be appreciated.

MB said...

That top photo — oh, I feel the vertigo of sand shifting and slipping away under my feet as the waves recede. A lovely post, indeed, Pete.

Humans seek patterns as a means of comprehension, and I suppose what I see as familiar may be fragments of pattern, points of similarity or familiarity that echo and reverberate with a sense of home. Not unlike an ever-growing visual vocabulary. But then I've always taken delight not only in etymology and the common roots of words but also in learning new words. Like the waves and sand in your photo, I think of balance as vital, a constant microshifting. And perhaps this is the way I think of home, too. A place that allows shifting to and from, sanctuary and freedom in balance, resistant to quantification or static definition. To me, home, like love, is a growing, living kind of thing to be tended. ...As is a sense of adventure. The point of fulcrum is just different. My fragmented thoughts of the moment! ;-)

You will be missed but who can complain, knowing that you will return filled with new visions and thoughts that will no doubt find their way into words and images to be shared one way or another. Have a wonderful time and stay safe. I look forward to your future posts, whenever they may appear.

Clare said...

"Why scurry about looking for the truth?
It vibrates in every thing and every not-thing, right off the tip of your nose.
Can you be still and see it in the mountain? the pine tree? yourself" -- Lao Tzu

I too am jealous of your travels and apprehensive of your absence. It sounds however like a magical journey, so I will rejoin in butuki's benediction -- godspeed*


*no higher being necessary. some assembly required.

Ceebie said...

Hi Pete: the meaning of home is something I've often pondered myself...When I was writing my master's thesis, I examined the concepts of home place and home place...Rigth now, I live in a home space - four walls, furniture, a bed...Home place is somewhere I have roots, a history, family. Home place is somewhere along the St Lawrence River, where my grandmother and my great-grandmother's houses still sit, even if I have only spent a few weeks there in my life. But the rocky shores of the river, stretching out to the horizon, hold a special place in my heart.

Thanks for your post on my blog,

Dave said...

Sounds like a great plan, Pete! I hope you take copious notes as well as photos. I can definitely see you making it as a travel writer.

Anonymous said...

Echoing what others have said, I too am jealous of and elated for you, Pete. And, well, I felt a strong pang I can't quite classify at seeing again in print how long you'll be away. We don't know one another in person, but you obviously have a gift for touching people very deeply -- the nature of the comments your blog gets are surely testament to this fact -- and you have done so with me. Yours is a very solid and strong presence indeed. Be careful out there, enjoy, and come back safely. Er, go back safely. To New Zealand. Which is on the other side of the world to me. Godspeed, friend.

KiwiSoupGirl said...

Bon voyage, Pete -I am relatively certain I speak for all when I say that we will be hanging out to hear about your adventures, and missing you like crazy all at once! Such adventures make a life - please go along in safety and openness, and return the same way. Hoping to farewell you IRL - the plan is looking good.

You picture of the tui took my breath away!! I have never seen anything more real or animated that isn't, well, the real thing! Still feeling that little fellow in my heart. :-) thanks so much - I love those tui birds to bits.
:-* KSG

Duncan said...

Take care and come back safely Pete.

pohanginapete said...

Thankyou Mary. Yes, I understand how, when you're moving house, there can be that feeling of dislocation; that sense of uncertainty about where “home” might truly be. It's been a few years since my last shift, and almost 20 years since any substantial relocation, but I don't know where I'll live when I return. That — the return — might be the hardest time.

HHnB: I'll try to post something from time to time, just so my friends know I'm still kicking around. If the opportunity arises to settle somewhere with enough access to a PC so I can process some photos, I might take a few days out and see what I can come up with. Thanks for the good wishes :^)

Butuki, I might be incommunicado for extended periods, but my friendship's still there. It's also one of my hopes that you'll find wonderful friends through this blog. (Note for other readers: do go and visit Butuki's blog. His latest post is a stunner.) But, I was sure you in particular would understand how this is part of who I am — and when I can no longer do these things, I trust I'll be able to let them go and rejoice in what I can still do. Like enjoying watching the little shags along the coast and seeing aspects of myself ;^D

Thankyou, Isabelita. Hope your climbing's going well :^)

MB, yes, I suppose it's one of the most common ways we try to make sense of the world, or at least attempt to understand it enough to be able to predict it. As much as I enjoy uncertainty and possibility, too much of it would be impossible. Your thoughts about the dynamic nature of “home” are apt, too. Thanks for the good wishes :^)

Clare, some of your recent posts and photos would have been to blame for my travelling — if I hadn't already made plans! Maybe if I get another opportunity in years to come... One of my friends from the Mongolian trip is keen for us to modify a 4WD van and work our way from the bottom of South America to the other end. If/when it happens, I will persuade him to detour to Arctic Bay (I will warn you in time to arrange lamb shanks).
Nice Lao Tzu quote. Thanks :^)

Ceebie, if you get the chance to browse here, you'll find “home” keeps recurring. It's interesting: earlier this year I had a feeling that I actually understood what it meant. I felt dismayed, and realised I love the wondering about home for its own sake. Fortunately, I soon realised I didn't understand the nature of home as well as I thought... ;^)
Rocky shores, be they along rivers or coasts, can seem enormously comforting. I can't imagine ever tiring of the sights and sounds.

Dave, you bet I'll be taking notes. I will be writing daily — at least. The writing is more important to me than the photography. Cheers, and thanks!

Emma, I'm deeply moved by your comment; thankyou :^) I'm only in transit through L.A.on the way back, so, sadly, won't get the chance to meet up with you. Well, not this time — maybe on the next big trip (see my reply to Clare).

KSG: Great —I'll keep my fingers crossed; it'd be wonderful to depart NZ on a high note like that. Speaking of high notes, that tui really was going for it. Not that they live any other way, of course — it's one of the things I love about them too; that apparent all-or-nothing attitude. :^)

pohanginapete said...

Duncan (we cross posted): many thanks. Give me time to recover after I return, and you might get a visitor — Australia's not exactly far away!

Knowleypowley said...

Pete

Firstly, thanks for your sharing blog with us. You have a wonderful gift of combing the written word with the visuals of your photographs to create something truly inspirational.

Secondly, Good luck and enjoy your journey, look after yourself and wherever you choose your home to be in the future, may it be comforting and warm.

All the best.

Avus said...

Pete, I, too, will miss you. Your blog is one I always turn to when I switch on. I have only known you for some 5 months, but your thoughtful meditations and superb photography always strike a chord.

We shall all eagerly wait to see those postings coming up again. As to the book - that is something for you and us to look forward to when you come "home" (where-ever that will be).

May your way be smooth, your travels joyful and your return safe.

Mike (avus@hotmail.com)

"Our parting in these hills is over
The sun sets and I shut my door
The spring will be green again next year-
Will my good friend come back too?

(Wang Wei)

polona said...

ah, Pete... you're the second blogger i've come to like (and I only know you through your posts) that has announced his near departure... I'll miss your insightful posts and superb photographs.

There's not much I can add others haven't said before, so bon voyage, and safe return!

faraway friends
smoke from the tea pot rises
to the full moon

Clare said...

Lambshanks are on order Pete. I dare say, though, that it will have to be one heck of a 4WD van :-)

Anita Daher said...

"I'll always wonder."

Perfect. You are living life in a big way, something each of us yearns to do. Most of us find small ways, often with compromise.

I have enjoyed your thoughtful posts, Pete, as well as your stunning photos. Your post on dreaming a short time ago was timely, and provoked discussion during a class I am taking. Thank you for that. I now have the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand bookmarked.

If you do plan South America to Arctic Bay, you must stop in Winnipeg way. Perhaps you will be interested in taking the train from here north to Churchill (bird, bear, and whale watching, not to mention history in your face at Fort Prince of Wales), and you can carry on from there. I plan to take that trip myself one day. (I'd also love to pop in to your lovely B & B in Arctic Bay one day, Clare!)

Safe journey. I look forward to catching up on your return.

robin andrea said...

Pete-- I went back and read your post from last Janaury, the one that begins “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” —Matsuo Bashō. I wanted to remember the sense you had of home and the first step into the journey. I imagine that you will have moments in the months ahead that will fill you with longing for the familiar. And there will be moments that will be exhilarating like no other time before.

I will miss your blogging voice and stunning perceptions. I am already looking forward to glimpsing what you fully see and sense on your journey, when you get a chance to share those insights from around the world.

Safe journey, my friend.

Tracy Hamon said...

I will miss the posts but will keep watch for news.


"evening broods over the heart
an overripe day burst in

to a million pin points of time
connected by our uncertainty"

Safe travels Pete.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Have a wonderful journey, Pete! I'll keep checking in.

pohanginapete said...

Knowleypowley, thankyou for the kind words, and all the best for you also.

Avus/Mike: I appreciate the thoughts; thankyou. I like that stanza, too; I'll look for Wang Wei's work.

Polona: Thankyou — for the thoughts and the haiku (among other things, it reminds me it's time to make a pot of tea... )

Anita: My circumstances (mainly the lack of kids!) make it easy to do these things, but I like to believe it's just as possible for anyone apparently more constrained to live at least as joyfully. Maybe what I'm saying is that it's less important to do marvellous things than it is to appreciate, take delight in, and be grateful for the details of your life. Thanks for the good wishes, and maybe I will make it to Canada eventually :^)

Robin, I suspect you've guessed well what the journey will contain, and I trust I'll eventually be able to convey those moments at least adequately. I'm looking forward to sharing them. Thanks :^)

Tracy, thankyou :^) I particularly like the reference to uncertainty (with its nuances) and connectivity in that last couplet.

Thanks Brenda. Not just for the good wishes, but for encouraging others to come and read here. I have you to thank for many of the blog friends I've met over the last year :^)

Peregrina said...

My very best wishes to you for your travelling, Pete. I guess it will be a time of intense experiences and, like your friend John, you'll be wanting to hold them fast so that when you're back again in Aotearoa you can take them out from time to time, close your eyes, and live them over again.

I'll miss my visits to your blog while you're away, but I look forward to what will appear there when you return. It should be rich fare indeed! I enjoy your writing, both your thoughtful ideas and your lovely imagery. I enjoy your photography too, and your recent bird photographs have turned me green with envy. Two others in particular that I keep going back to are the rock with mussels, in "Southerly Front", and the portrait (though obviously not your work!) in last month's "Dusk" of your grandmother and her sister as very small girls. Regarding the first: there's something about the beautifully lit water swirling around the rock that really affects me. As for the second: there's such great beauty in those little faces. Lots to consider about the ephemeral nature of life, too, like how that small girl on the right, immortalised by the photographer, also changed imperceptibly to eventually become a grandmother.

As for the uncertainty of where you will live when you return: things usually seem to fall into place for those who are able to recognise opportunities when they arise and have the courage to take them. The little I know of you through your writing gives me the feeling that you'll be all right!

Journey well and come back safely.

yllstonewolf said...

finally having an opportunity to catch up a bit, i see that you are leaving on a journey. i will miss reading here, and your gorgeous images that always take my breath away. i hope a wonderful trek for you. you'll be in my thoughts!

pohanginapete said...

Peregrina, I think there are important lessons in that photo of my nana and her sister. The sort of camera equipment that the photographer would have used would have been laughable by today's standards, but that photo beats most contemporary portraits hands down. Sophisticated gear simply loosens the constraints of what's possible; it may be able to represent what's in front of its lens, but it can't create an image (or photograph, depending on what sense you attach to those words — "picture" is too banal; "portrait" too narrow). However, I'm sure you in particular are more than aware of that. There are other lessons, though.

It's good to hear your thoughtful feedback; thankyou, and thanks for the good wishes.

YllstoneWolf, thankyou — it's always good to hear nice things about the photos from photographers whose skill, and ability to see, I respect and admire. :^)

Peregrina said...

Yes, Pete, you're right. I was well aware of the artistry and the technical skill of the photographer, particularly the lighting, and I'd calculated from your caption that the image was probably made about a hundred years ago. All the more to marvel at! I was surprised when you posted it that no-one commented on it - but then, I didn't at the time, either. When you look at what the outstanding photographers in the early decades of last century achieved - especially in the field - with their heavy equipment and glass plates... Processing was more laborious than it is now, too.

I wonder how much it has to do with the fact that they could take only a small number of plates with them on a day's outing and therefore they needed to do their utmost to make sure every image was worthwhile? It's easy to be a happy-snappy photographer these days with our film or microchips because we can afford to take a number of images in the attempt to get one really good one.

bev said...

I've just been doing a little catching up on reading while on the road and see that you'll soon be leaving to do a little wandering of your own shortly after I return home. I'm sure yours will be an interesting journey.
When I'm away for awhile, I've found that I feel comfortable in just about any natural place. Your mention of rocky shores along oceans or rivers made me smile. I spent much of yesterday afternoon resting on a broad, stony shoal in a river cañon and it felt as much like a home as any place could be. On the other hand, cities and busy towns are difficult for me when I roam -- but that goes for back home as well. Oddly enough, one of the things that helps me to feel most centered while wandering is being able to find fresh fruit and vegetables of some kind - doesn't really matter "what" those things might be so long as they're fresh. When I can't find such provisions, I begin to feel slightly stranded. I suppose it must be some instinctive herbivore thing -- when I can't find suitable food to browse on, I start to think of moving on to better pasture. (-:
Good luck with your journey, Pete.

pohanginapete said...

Peregrina, yes, it's easy to rely on the law of averages now. There are certainly pros and cons for both approaches, but some situations better suit one or the other. It's nice to be able to choose pretty much whatever degree of deliberation I feel is appropriate when I'm photographing.

Bev, that's interesting about your diet affecting how you feel. I find food one of the most important ways of getting to know a place and people — even the process of searching for somewhere to eat when I'm travelling is, for me, usually more satisfying than looking at "tourist attractions". Thanks :^)

J. said...

How very wonderful to have so much time to travel, especially in India. I've always wanted to go there and lately it's top of my list. I wonder how you chose it and why? It's certainly been the inspiration for many of my favourite books recently, and of my cooking, always. You are so lucky to be going to be eating the real thing; I hope you will try to collect a few authentic recipes while you're there, preferably of the home cooking variety. And I know we will be treated to great photographs, hopefully some of people. There, you have my wish list, but anything you bring back, including yourself, will be wonderful. Happy trails.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks J. Why India? I could probably rattle off many reasons and still miss the essence of what's behind the restlessness to live there myself. At the risk of sounding gnomic, perhaps the best answer I can give is, "To find out why I want to go to India." Of course, the question is just as valid for anywhere else, including all those places I'm not going — at least this time ;^)

Landscapes, culture, people, wildlife, difference, light, food, age and time, ideas, encouragement, challenge, life, wanderlust and restlessness, ... (no particular order). You're probably getting the sense of it now. Perhaps by the time I return, I'll know.

Will said...

Hey Pete,
…are you really ready to let go? Ready to move and disappear among others, getting may be only the attention of being recognized as a stranger?
Blogers, and you are a real one, from my point of view are often people which are seeking affirmation from somebody. Somebody? Well these are the ones who leave their comments in blogs, having the need to let others and not only you know what they think; judging good or bad in the one or the other way, thoughts, ideas or what ever.
Isn’t all that nothing more than a craving for recognition? …or is it some kind of self affirmation?
What are you looking for if you step away now when you are still thinking about what you are going to miss, what you are going to feel or you believe you understand about how somebody felt once?
If you want to depart- just go. Go like a fool no matter what is going to happen or what has been around you in the past.
Or do you need all this comments as a final affirmation?
I hope you are ready to go out…
Take care and good luck,
W.

pohanginapete said...

Will, I think I'm ready, and have been for some time. I'm not sure whether seeking affirmation is any substantial part of this post; I think not, and my main motivation was to let people know the blog will be quiet for long periods. Also, my friends here have known of my journey for quite some time now, and for me it's important to let my friends elsewhere (some of whom I've not yet met "IRL") have a similar opportunity to say their farewells (even if my departure is intended to be temporary). For me, it's part of friendships. On that note, I might as well say you owe me a pint for not warning me you were shooting through! Iceland's a bit far from India, though, so it might have to wait — but I won't forget!

Also, I'd question whether blog comments are primarily for the purpose of seeking affirmation. On the contrary, I see them as conversations, with all the degrees of conversation, from the merest, "Hi" to long, thoughtful discourses full of insights. In that respect, the only differences between blog comments and discussions at the Celtic or around the kitchen table are the inevitable delays in responding, and the difficulty of expressing nuances — of being limited to words and not having body language, facial expressions, the sounds of laughter and (sometimes) outrage... But affirmation? That can be just as much an intention of a conversation as of a blog comment.

Will, thanks for the good wishes, and it's good to hear your thoughts, even if I disagree on this one. Cheers.

Will said...

Hanta Ho !
...that with the pint is okay :-)
See you somewhere on the road.
W.

Avus said...

"On the contrary, I see them as conversations, with all the degrees of conversation, from the merest, "Hi" to long, thoughtful discourses full of insights. In that respect, the only differences between blog comments and discussions at the Celtic or around the kitchen table.... are the difficulty of expressing nuances..."
I liked that definition of a blog, Pete. I have often wondered why I do it!

Scudy&Kimboz said...

I'll think about you travelling around like my Bruce Chatwin! Wish one day I'll have the courage to do the journey of my life.
Meanwhile....all my best wishes for you for my heart.
Barbara

pohanginapete said...

Avus, I recall seeing discussions about blogging and the only conclusion I trust substantially is that the reasons for blogging are nearly as diverse as the bloggers. What does surprise me is occasionally to hear someone trying to say what blogs "should" do. Sometimes I wonder why I blog, but the question doesn't vex me — I don't feel the need to agonise over it. I write, I photograph, I love real communication with other people; if those weren't reasons enough, I'd be impossible to satisfy. Thanks for the feedback!

Barbara, that's a lovely comment, thankyou. There's much about Chatwin I admire (and some things I don't), but his writing and his restlessness speak strongly to me. Hope I'll see you and A this evening at the party :^D

butuki said...

I photograph, I love real communication with other people; if those weren't reasons enough, I'd be impossible to satisfy.

Hmm, yes, but what is a blogger to do when they go commenting a lot on other bloggers' blogs, often contributing to or even starting very long discussions, only to be told by a number of those other bloggers, "I don't like to leave comments on other blogs."? It sort of takes the fun out of commenting, and even makes some people feel like their own blogs are not worth the effort. I know one blogger who faithfully wrote posts every day for three years (and good posts, too) and when I ran across her site she had never once received a comment. It was almost a celebration when she responded to my one comment. A month or so later she closed shop. I find it perplexing, like in real life really, why some people get to be popular, even if they fail to show respect to their admirers, while other people never seem to even get started. Some bloggers write rubbish every day, and yet they get hundreds of readers. Hard to understand.

Can you tell I'm a little discouraged in my own blog? *snarf*!

Peregrina said...

Butuki: Your comment gives me an opportunity to say I followed Pete's link to your blog recently (thanks for that, Pete), really loved the three posts I've read so far, passed the link (along with Pete's) on to several other non-blog readers I thought would be interested - but I didn't leave a comment. This was probably because I couldn't do it without registering. Registering is probably no big deal, but apart from e-mailing I don't use the internet much, have limited computer skills, and having to register presented a barrier. I discovered blogs only a few months ago and it took me quite a while to work out how to post comments on Blogspot after I'd actually found the courage to make one. I think there are perhaps more than a few people out here who do feel shy about commenting and also have never done it before, so they don't. However, it's not so scary after you've done it the first time! I've enjoyed the recent discussion here about the point of blog comments. I like Pete's idea that they are a conversation - it's how I've come to see them, too.

And another chance to say happy travelling, Pete!

Patry Francis said...

I've come back to read this at least three times, and will undoubtedly return again. Wishing you a safe and enlightening trip. I have several close Malawian friends, and it's a place I've always wanted to visit, but probably never will. I'm counting on those notes of yours...

pohanginapete said...

Butuki, I know the situation well. I started blogging on xanga in February 2004 and with encouragement from Wordgirl (of the now seemingly defunct fuelfools blog), I switched to blogger in July 2005. During the year and a half on xanga, I received just a handful of comments. However, I never felt discouraged, because for me the blog was an outlet for writing; I'd also been using the little digicam for a couple of months and realised how easy it was to merge photos and words in some satisfying way. Also, I knew a handful of friends were reading the blog — they even occasionally emailed me about it! Eventually Wordgirl asked whether I'd considered switching to blogger, and that proved to be something of a turning point, perhaps because I set it up so people could comment without registering (not possible on xanga). I think Peregrina said it perfectly: requiring registration is a huge disincentive, particularly for people who are shy (as I was before I began commenting elsewhere) or those for whom computers are still inventions of the devil.

But it wasn't until I began commenting on one or two other blogs that I began getting more visitors — and commenters. Now, I very much enjoy comments, not just because they feel like affirmations about what I'm doing, but because most commenters are “regulars” and they feel like friends. They ARE friends. Rightly or wrongly, I feel as if I know some of those people better than others I meet in “real life”. In part, perhaps that's because I've been lucky enough to have had comments from people willing to offer thoughtful, well considered insights (I'm thinking of a certain blogger from Japan, here ;^)), or at least people willing to share something of who they are.

And that leads me to your observation about the hundreds of comments received by people who write seemingly superficial posts every day. I couldn't handle that many comments; I'd be there all day reading and trying to decide which to answer. When would I find the time to go out and live the life I write about? Moreover, what I write for the blog doesn't arrive easily (okay, sometimes it just happens, but those are exceptions) and as much as I feel some degree of guilt about not commenting as diligently on other blogs, I do try to keep focused on writing and photographing for pohanginapete.

The other point, of course, is that I'm fairly sure it's the frequent posting that encourages comments — if you want many visitors, posting daily is far more effective than posting sporadically, and the quality of writing is far less important. Personally, I'm not prepared to compromise my attempts at quality for the sake of popularity. Nor, I suspect, are you; nor would I want you to make those compromises. Don't be discouraged, Miguel; I'm certain that anyone who regularly visits pohanginapete will appreciate and value Laughing~Knees (that's a hint, other readers).

Finally, I do think there are obvious ways to encourage comments, other than by frequent posting. Asking direct questions is one; making contentious statements is another. There are bound to be many more, but as always, the difficulty would be to incorporate those without compromising quality. I don't know whether this has done much to address your comment, but I insist that you must feel encouraged! Your blog is incontrovertibly “worth the effort”.

Peregrina: Thanks for those thoughts. As you'll have seen, you said what I would have — registration definitely discourages commenting. Moreover, I agree about that intial shyness when first commenting. That's how I felt; I got over it, though!

Patry: I will be in Malawi throughout May next year. I will expect a visit :^) And thanks for your comments and generosity :^)

Tony Bridge said...

Pete:
Like me, I suspect that the trip is going to change you in ways it will take a long time to appreciate-long after you have come back in fact. They say travel broadens the mind. What they don't say is that it rewires you in ways it wuill take a long time to understand-if you ever do.
My friend, I wish you a happy and safe journey. I do not wish you an ordinary one-for one like you that is not possible- and I look forward to hearing about it when you get back.

Ahakoa iti, he pounamu

Arohanui e
Tony

pohanginapete said...

E Tony, nga mihi nui ki a koe.

I'm sure you're right, and I suspect returning might be harder than the journey itself. We change continuously, but journeys like yours — and, I hope, mine — offer the prospect of more rapid, and greater, change. For the better, I trust. Kia ora, e hoa.

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