26 September 2010

The Spring wind

Clearing after the flood

Outside in the dark as the rain eases and stops, a sheep coughs. The barking has a note of desperation, as if the sheep's lungs have been choked with worms and the poor creature will asphyxiate if it fails to cough them up. As I listen I feel my own lungs beginning to wither and fail and I feel, too, the frightened sheep's sense of its own mortality.

This, of course, is my own fear projected onto the sheep, which, having coughed enough, begins to scratch itself on a verandah pile. Already, it has probably forgotten its fit of hacking.


The first stag cast both antlers nine days ago; today the other stag cast his. Without antlers the big animals seem odd, out of proportion, as if all that powerful body seems pointless, casting about for a purpose long gone. Already they'll be starting to grow new sets so six months from now, crowned once again, they can fight over the hinds.

The futility of this seems absurd, yet, in a sense, this is all there is — fail in the competition to leave progeny and you might as well never have existed. Perhaps this is why we, the evolutionary dead ends, the dinosaurs, write so desperately: so we won't be forgotten, so we might influence the world in which we will no longer live, so something of us might survive.


A cold wind knocks pink and white petals from the magnolia, scatters white clouds across a blue sky, piles them up over the ranges. Winter's casualties continue their slow collapse — one hind, skin stretched and cracking over disarticulating bones; a ewe or two sinking into the wriggling ground; somewhere the old cat in a place only he knows.

But the tree lucerne bustles with tauhou and the low roar of feeding bees. I walk on, down through the cutting, looking out over the valley, down to Te Awaoteatua Stream, its grey-trunked poplars already hung with yellow-green catkins. At the bridge I lean over the parapet and stare at the swift, shallow water. I think of Pooh sticks, but it's pointless now. I walk on, further than I'd intended; I walk on because my legs keep carrying me down the road in the pale, silvery light and cold wind; I walk on because I can't stop, can't make the decision to turn around. I want to walk on forever, out of the world.

But I stop at Tokeawa Stream and lean over again, gazing at the water rushing white over algal-brown boulders. I look down, remembering, and the water begins to mutter questions I can't quite make out.

After a long time I begin walking back up the quiet road.

1. Various hypotheses have been proposed for the function of antlers (see Clutton-Brock, T. H. (1982). The functions of antlers. Behaviour, 79(2/4), 108–125), but why do red deer retain their antlers throughout the winter, i.e. for 4–5 months after the roar (rut; breeding/fighting season)?
2.Tree lucerne — tagasaste, Chamaecytisus palmensis.
3. Tauhou — the silvereye, Zosterops lateralis

1. Boulders, Te Awaoteatua Stream.
2. Te Awaoteatua Stream running high after rain. "What might have been is an abstraction/Remaining a perpetual possibility/Only in a world of speculation." — T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: Burnt Norton.

Photos and original text © 2010 Pete McGregor


Zhoen said...

But we don't need genetic progeny, ideas will do, and often last longer.

pohanginapete said...

Agreed, Zhoen. That, I think is one of the reasons some of us write: short of founding a new religion, writing is one of the best (or at least most obvious) ways to ensure ideas survive and spread.

Relatively Retiring said...

New growth comes from all those bleak and dessicating bits and writing comes from some totally mysterious source, whether you're dealing with the kiddies at the same time - or not!

So how's the new religion coming along?

Tim Koppenhaver said...

My unwavering motivator to write is exactly as you've described - "so we might influence the world in which we no longer live". It adds a touch of immortality to our limited existence.

Great pictures.

Take care.


robin andrea said...

I think about this what it means to leave nothing behind. No genetic legacy, no words. Sometimes all we have is the gentle request, remember me.

pohanginapete said...

RR, I've abandoned the idea of starting a new religion — Pastafarianism has already cornered my area. ;^)

Tim, thanks — appreciated :^) And it's good to hear that confirmation. I suspect we're far from alone.

Robin, I'm sure it's safe to say you and Roger are right up there among those who will be remembered — and for the right reasons. Of course, I trust it'll be a long time before we have to rely on memory :^)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
I like the thought of "the old cat" lying in some secret place with the back drop of places he well knew and of the Ruahine to keep him company. But I guess even then when our bones simply become part of the earth, and the mountain rivers roll on to the sea, and the wind still blows over the tops and ridges, we want to somehow remain connected. So let the words flow. Kia kaha.

Anonymous said...

Pete, How I wish I could be like that sheep! Forget coughing fits - not worry. I'll be one of those evolutionary dead ends... somehow this doesn't disturb me. If I look back in my life at those important moments and encounters with the people that mattered, I know that there will be bits of me that live on.... So what if they are just small bits.

Funny you should mention "pooh-sticks"! One of my favorite memories of this past summer is doing just that with my husband. It was at a bridge in a remote part of Montana. Just like children!

Two days ago we hurried past a beehive in the cliff. We heard them before we saw them. Bees give me hope for the future.

I am sad about your cat. I understand his disappearance.

I am glad you turned around and walked back up the quiet road.

Wishing you the best.


pohanginapete said...

Kia ora Robb. Thanks — the words will keep coming, even if they don't flow as easily as I'd like. As RR says, writing comes from somewhere totally mysterious, and I have to trust that source won't run dry.

Maureen, that's an excellent point — wouldn't it be great to be able to forget our troubles as easily as that sheep? It's good to hear, too, that you two were able to be like children. Kids can teach us a great deal, and I'm lucky to have several small friends I can learn from ;^)

leonie.wise said...

I always (always!) have to come back to what you write here and read it over and over. It always feels like I want to join in - jump into your conversation and say something terribly smart, or thoughtful.

Yet somehow, each time I return, I end up feeling my responses in a way that seems more appropriate than I can ever adequately articulate. Still, I'll have a go.... :D

One of the things I was thinking about a lot whilst on 'retreat' was about communication:

"How could I tell Nic about what I've seen/felt?"
"What if there was no Nic to tell about it?"
"How would my interpretation of the world around me change if I didn't have anyone to tell at all?"

So I guess I have sat and considered what might be lost in the telling. Or how impossible it might be (for me at least) to really communicate what my view of the world is like!

Yet still I tell my story.

David duChemin (who I am sure you are familiar with) in his book Vision & Voice writes:
"To put it another way, they (writers) don't write then they have inspiration; they write to find inspiration. Writers know that inspiration comes with work."

I suggest that we could also use the word meaning, in place of the word inspiration in the above.

Anyways, I am not sure what I came to say, or if I achieved it! I (for one) savour each visit here, because what you write always gives me pause for thought. And that, for me, is all kinds of good.

(I too am sad about your cat. Perhaps he is with ours, eating & taking naps on some great big cat couch in an alternate reality)

Lydia said...

Your writing is so lush; it brings me to tears as none other on the internet. There is a lot of sadness in this post, brought on by the reasons behind the line you slipped into it "somewhere the old cat in a place only he knows." I am so sorry Ming wasn't with you at the end, for you to know the time of his passing - but from what you wrote of him it seems he stayed in character because it was what he needed.

I have a different feeling than you about not having progeny. The greatest environmental impact (in the negative sense here) a human can have is to have a child. Perhaps, then, our legacy is that our impact on the earth stops the day we are buried or scattered. It is a great gift to a gasping planet.

pohanginapete said...

Leonie, thanks for the very thoughtful comment — whether you think it says what you wanted or not, it provided plenty for me to think about. Trying to think how to respond, I, too, am faced with a problem: how to say something more worthwhile than simply, "Yes, that's it; I agree."

Thinking about your questions while you were on retreat: sometimes I suspect the urge — no, the compulsion — to write arises from the desire to connect with people who feel similar things; it's partly to reassure those people they're not alone, partly in the hope that the response will reassure us we're not alone. Yet I'd keep writing even if all hope of anyone reading my words had gone (although I suspect that reflects the power of hope to persist even when hope is irrational).

I'm sure David duChemin's right (yes, I keep an eye on his blog), although I'd qualify it in two ways: first, I don't always find inspiration even when I work hard at writing (fortunately, however, I find it often enough to keep me going) and second, inspiration can be found in many other ways — for example, in the right kinds of conversations, or being in special places (like Flounder Bay or at Ngamoko hut) or reading something, well, ... inspirational. The person who waits for it to arrive, however, probably won't write much, at least not much worthwhile, and will remain frustrated (I speak from experience).

Finally, I'm delighted my posts get you thinking and feeling. Both are what I strive for; it's good to know I sometimes manage it.

Lydia, thank you. The sadness is temporary; I have some great things to look forward to in the immediate future and the longer term (and the other cat (Jimmy/Tigger) still comes over to cadge feeds and duvet space from me!) Letting go of sadness is at least partly a deliberate decision and to the extent I'm able, I have no intention of hanging on to it.

I take your point about the environmental impact of an increasing population, and I agree. But our impact is not a simple function of our number: to a large extent it's a function of how we live, and consumption — or more accurately, consumerism — is another major contributor. Still, I suppose leaving no progeny means leaving no additional consumers.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

I particularly liked the centre paragraph - are humans evolutionary dead ends? The problem is that because of those opposable digits of ours we have fashioned the world to suit our shapes, rather than us be fashioned to it - but i wonder if we are still changing in other ways.

I agree there is a certain amount of trying to leave a mark in our blogs and writings - we all feel that urge to justify our lives in some way and to leave a trace

Great writing as always

pohanginapete said...

Hungry pixies, thanks. I think it's inevitable we're continuing to change, but for all our knowledge of evolutionary and other forms of change, it'd be an exceptionally confident person who would claim to know how we're changing (although there seems to be no shortage of those people). One of the particularly interesting questions (for me, anyway) concerns how "hard-wired" we are — in other words, to what extent are we able to override the evolved characteristics that got us to this point? The characteristics that ensured our survival in the past can't guarantee our survival in the future, and the hugely accelerated rate of change of our environment, largely because of our own actions, probably far exceeds the capacity of evolutionary processes to produce the kind of human that can survive in that drastically modified environment.

Whatever your motives (conscious or not) are for writing, I'm glad they're working! Great to see you back and posting :^)

Avus said...

I found this a deeply enigmatic posting, Pete. You always have me thinking and returning to re-examine. The quality of your respondents contributions is also an intellectual joy.

pohanginapete said...

Avus, I'm certainly lucky to have such appreciative and thoughtful commenters. I'm also pleased you found the post enigmatic — sometimes it's good to allow readers plenty of room to wonder (in all senses).

Beth said...

Water is a good companion for words, and non-words. Thanks for this, Pete.

pohanginapete said...

Beth, in the presence of rivers and streams I tend to do far more listening than talking. I find it curious how words seem to assemble naturally — and often unexpectedly — with a river as a companion.
Thanks :^)