31 May 2006

Sounds and silence

What strikes me is the silence. It’s not the absence of sound; instead, the silence arises from what I hear, from between the sounds, from the nature of those sounds. A car grinds up the hill and accelerates away; the whine fades and the river returns. Sparrows behind the kennels, in the shrubs down the bank—a persistent, monotonous argument going on and on. A piwakawaka [1] jumps and flits on the top wire of the fence and another calls from somewhere near the edge of the terrace, only its voice apparent. Sounds that draw attention to the silence in which they’re embedded. When the world’s full of noise you don’t hear what’s said softly, you miss the subtle sounds: racked by dissonance, you can no longer listen.

A tui [2] begins calling from the scribble of leafless poplar branches. It’s an astonishingly complex medley, full of bells, coughs, chuckles, melodies, and stolen voices. Watch carefully and you’ll see it singing, yet you might hear nothing—some notes and phrases are beyond our range of hearing. A bird, singing silence.

Tigger appears from somewhere, smelling of hay and something else—perhaps fabric softener. I can’t figure out the chronology of his sleeps; whether it was hay first and Olive’s washing second or the other way around. He rubs his head against my shins and purrs loudly, denying any guilt. The sound reminds me how, yesterday, I met Charlie again. Turning the corner at the No. 3 Line junction and seeing him there, sitting on a old log in the sun. Probably had his ear on some small rustle in the long grass lodged by the weight of old rain. I said hello as I walked over and he answered, waiting for me to scratch his chin and ruffle behind his ears. He leant into my hand, trusting I’d support him—if I’d moved my hand he’d have toppled off the log. Eventually I had to pick him up and carry him to the trailer by the house. He was perfectly happy to be carried; not so happy when I walked off, carrying the sound of a small protest.

A lone swallow [3] swoops past without a sound. Out beyond the terrace two kahu [4] circle on wide wings. Sometimes you only hear what the world’s saying when it’s silent.

Eventually Tigger stops purring and sits on the edge of the verandah with his back to me, looking out at the brilliantly green paddock. Small movements of his ears; locating things I can’t hear. I wonder what his silence sounds like.

Another car; a far off aeroplane behind clouds; strident spur-winged plovers [5] somewhere out of sight below, probably in the paddock by the bridge. Then the silence slides back. Te Awaoteatua stream rushes over its stones. Sheep in the driveway crop the grass with a methodical rip-rip-rip, tearing the top off the autumn flush.

Sometimes you only notice things when they’re no longer there. When the wind dies, for example, and the soft rattle of cabbage tree leaves ceases; when the bumble bee fumbling and buzzing along the verandah finally settles on a blue clothes peg—then you notice the silence.

[1] New Zealand fantail, Rhipdura fuliginosa.
[2] Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae.
[3] The welcome swallow, Hirundo tahitica.
[4] Australasian harrier, Circus approximans.
[5] Vanellus miles novaehollandiae.

Photos (click on them for a larger image):
1. Poplar grove, Te Awaoteatua Stream, Pohangina Valley.
2. Charlie; small, strong, and beautiful. Quite apart from the fact he's Charlie, he's also a burmese. This is significant for me.
3. Dualism.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

27 May 2006

The sacred kingfisher

Seen through binoculars, every detail of the bird has its own presence—the slight iridescence of the primary feathers; softness of breast and belly; hard, clean lines of the bill; a dark eye reflecting the afternoon sun as a brilliant highlight. The bird sways just perceptibly on the braided wire stretched between poles. It turns its head—and I see its left eye, clouded, pale, opaque. Blind. The sight is like a blow, like seeing the bird’s moment of death.

I’m helpless. There’s nothing I can do; the bird is wild, alert, seemingly unperturbed. There’s no hope of catching it—and if I did, what then? The likelihood that anyone could do anything to restore sight to that milky eye is hopelessly small. But how can it judge distance? Binocular vision would seem to be essential, particularly for a kingfisher plummeting from its high wire to snatch a lizard or beetle from the ground. How can it catch prey? How does it avoid striking branches when it arrows through the willows?

I watch, wondering how long the bird will survive. I know I’ll now look carefully at every kotare near here, looking for the bird with one eye, hoping to see it so I know it’s still alive. In a strange, macabre way, this bird has become an individual; I know it’s this kotare, not another, because of its injury.

How did it happen? Injury or disease? How long has it been like this? How has it managed to survive? Again I’m hit by that helplessness, the wanting to do something, the awareness of futility. The bird turns its head, looks at me with its good eye. I study it even more carefully, looking for other signs of ill health, but it seems fine. It turns away, its dead eye towards me. I move a little closer, stopping when it checks me again with the good eye. It’s late autumn here, less than a month from the shortest day. I can’t help thinking this small bird, now so alive, won’t see the Spring—it can’t possibly survive the winter with a handicap like that.

And then I think, what’s the tragedy? What difference does it make if it dies this winter or next? Eventually all birds die, like us. Life implies death; death implies life. If death is inevitable, then the tragedy must be because this one is somehow premature. But some birds die earlier than others—most, I suspect never reach adulthood. Perhaps this is an old bird; perhaps its blindness is at least partly because it’s old? Even if it is young, even if it will die before reaching the average life expectancy, that simply influences, to a tiny degree, that average life expectancy: in other words, some birds have to die before that age. Half, in fact.

I don’t know whether these thoughts are a comfort or not. I look at the bird, watching its brilliant, sunlit eye looking back at me. I lower the binoculars to see it with my own eyes, so there’s nothing between us. We look at each other for a while, then it takes to the air, speeding away towards the willows. It alights on a branch; no hesitation, perfectly judged.

In that moment of hope, I wonder why death terrifies so many of us, wonder, perhaps, whether I have the right to accept my own eventual death but not that of others—the right to say spare me the technology to keep me alive but not the right of another to postpone his own death. And if, somehow, I could have caught the kotare and found a way to heal it, to restore the sight in that eye? I’d have done it.

I walk back up the road, leaving a good luck wish hanging silently in the air, a small attempt to reciprocate the blessing. Thinking about the name:

Kotare, Halcyon sancta. The sacred kingfisher.

[1] I still can't work out why blogger decides to display some photos at their original size but others reduced (for example. the original Melianthus and blackberry photos are exactly the same dimensions but the blackberry photo won't display at the reduced size (400 pixels wide)). If anyone knows what's happening, please email me (the address is under my profile photo)).

[2] As is often the case, these photos are not intended to illustrate the post. There's a connection, but they're not riddles—my hope is that you'll simply understand (at some level) the relationship between text and image. What you might find and be able to articulate is an intellectual exercise: interesting, but not essential. I've probably said too much anyway.

Photo 1: Cape honey flower, Melianthus major; Point Arthur, Eastbourne.
Photo 3: Evening beach near Pencarrow Head, Wellington harbour.
Photo 3: Wild blackberry flower; Pohangina Valley.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

24 May 2006

Southerly front

Out at sea the swell reached six metres; the interisland ferries huddled in their harbours, unwilling to brave Cook Strait. From the upstairs bedroom I looked out through big French windows, over Eastbourne’s rooftops to the wild, wind-whipped harbour. Ragged waves streamed along the coast, heading tirelessly towards the Petone foreshore; when one finally failed and sank back into the sea another always replaced it, never more than a few seconds behind. The progression seemed eternal—those waves would roll up the harbour as long as the gale continued; if the wind never ceased, the waves would surf on forever, endlessly following each other, never tiring, never feeling any urge to do anything different, never wanting to be anything other than waves. This, I thought, is what it means to be mindless. I reached down and ran my hand once over Ralph’s head. He shivered, wriggled slightly, and curled tighter into his nest in the duvet. Eyes shut, paw over his nose. A sphere is the optimum shape for retaining warmth. Cats know this.

During the night the southerly gale raged; rain continued steadily until the small hours before becoming sporadic; squalls in darkness. The wind persisted, then, at 5:32 a.m. an earthquake jolted the house; hard and swift, as if the world had tried to kick me awake. It succeeded.

By dawn violent gusts had begun to boot the sky to bits, breaking the concrete-coloured layer into rough clouds. A listless sun mustered enough strength to wash a little colour over the clouds—salmon, mauve, a faint lilac, a muddy, weak yellow-brown, and behind it all the washed-out duck egg blue of clear sky. It didn’t last. The temperature continued to drop—on TV that evening I saw snow closing down the Desert Road—and by late morning the cold showers had returned. Once, I heard a soft rattle on the windows and looked up to see sleet driving in and sliding down the panes. I muffled myself in fleece and thick socks and fingerless gloves; I drank hot cups of tea; Ralph did his best to keep us both warm; but finally I could bear the cold no longer. I lit the fire in the late afternoon and Ralph relinquished my lap for the prime spot where he could toast his fur in the front of the imprisoned flames.

Where are the eagles and the trumpets?

Buried beneath some snow-deep Alps. [1]

After the southerly I rode again along the coast, out towards Pencarrow Head. Pedalling hard to heat up, squinting into the late sun, everything salted with the smell of fresh-thrown kelp. Feral goats browsed the gorse hillsides; a pair of oystercatchers fossicked just out of reach of waves that ran up the beach, stretching towards the wrinkled pink legs then retreating, hissing as they slid back down. The birds made short runs, stopped to look, probed among the stones. Along the shingle beach, blackbacks picked dying mussels from the wrack, lifted them high into the evening and dropped them to break and ooze on wet shingle. I stopped and watched; saw the moment of release—the beak opening, the black silhouette of the shellfish beginning its final arc, the long fall beneath beating wings.

the rocks are rushing towards me
I am about to be dashed on my home

I have never known such speed

nor such solicitous wings
following my fall.

I watched the conclusion—the big gull, hard-eyed, picking at the limp flesh, shaking it hard to free it from its shell. The transfer of life: mussel becoming gull. Eventually the gull would become something else, perhaps those flies rising in dark clouds from the wrack where a few feathers still clung to desiccated tissue glued to the bones of a wing; perhaps voracious sea lice; perhaps the crabs waiting for high tide and the chance to creep and scuttle sideways and pull and tear, always alert for the shadow overhead. What might remain of the gull might dissolve into the sea, to be filtered by the mussel anchored for a while to ...

the rocks
where I have breathed in
and breathed out
sucked and silently squirted

The ferries were sailing again. The Arahura slid up the harbour, a deep thrum resonating through the evening like the first hint of an approaching earthquake; the giant engines of orogeny. By now the world had turned, obscuring the sun; the shadow of the western hills crept up the bluffs and valleys behind me, another kind of encroaching tide. White goats, yellow gorse, ochre slipfaces. In the curve of a sheltered bay, small, widely separated waves flowed in, hardly more than long ripples, drained of physical energy but full of poise; a kind of elegance and grace in the way each ran along the surface of the sea, unbroken except where the near end touched shore and crumpled in a soft collapse of foam that followed the curve of the bay. As each wave passed, the almost iridescent colours of the reflected sky shimmered, heaved, then relaxed, waiting for the next long pulse.

I think we come here so our words
can fail us, get humbled by the stones, drown,
be lost forever, then come back
as beach glass, polished and anonymous,
knowing everything.

I biked home into the twilight, into the cold, knowing everything and able to explain nothing.

Photo 1: Shoreline, Point Arthur, Eastbourne.
Photo 2: Coast near Pencarrow Head.
Photo 3: Feral billy, loc. cit.
Photo 4: Sea, rock, mussels. loc. cit.
Photo 5: Breaking wave, Point Arthur.

[1] T.S. Eliot, from A cooking egg. In: Collected Poems 1909–1962. London, Faber & Faber (1974). ISBN 0 571 05549 4.
[2] James Norcliffe, from Last confessions of a bivalve. In: A Kind of Kingdom. Wellington, Victoria University Press (1998). 128 pp. ISBN 0 86473 351 8.
[3] James Norcliffe, op cit.
[4] Don McKay, from Finger pointing at the moon. (Thanks to Matthew Hollet for pointing me to Don McKay’s poetry).

Photos and words (other than the quotes [1–4]) © 2006 Pete McGregor

22 May 2006

Rainbow (poem)

I had a couple of visitors yesterday. The smile's still with me.

Rainbow (for C.)

Red, orange, yellow, you said
uncurling a small finger for each
as I listened

you looked up
green, blue, and I held a breath
wondering whether you’d stumble
running out of fingers
the other hand occupied
a little fist closed around a colour
me unwilling to lend another

content to be tense
waiting for the word


you said then

your smile a rainbow
you at the end a small treasure
worth far more than
your weight in gold.

Photo and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

20 May 2006


One of the great dreams of man must be to find some place between the extremes of nature and civilization where it is possible to live without regret.[1]

If you view everything as connected—us as part of, perhaps an attribute or emergent property of our entire, complex, astonishing world, then it cannot be possible to view any part of it as something to be exploited, despoiled, or polluted. Such an attitude in no way conflicts with attentive, respectful use; indeed, that’s a natural process. You trim your nails, you cut your hair; you don’t cut off your feet or tear out your hair.

(Based on a note from November '02)

[1] Barry Lopez; p. 178 in Crossing Open Ground. New York, Vintage. (1989). 209 pp. ISBN 0-679-72183-5. This quote fascinates me, not because I think it's perfectly true—I have some reservations about it (e.g., the dualism)—but because it encourages me to wonder. (I admit I'm often leery of aphorisms that seem to be undeniable: a thing said beautifully and forcefully can be deceptive and dangerous.)

Photo 1: Entrance to the Whangai–Whenua—Ahi ka exhibition at Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand. This is the first long term exhibition to open there in the last eight years. If you get the chance to visit, do so. [Click the photo for an enlarged view].

Photo and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

17 May 2006

Other dimensions

At Te Papa I explored the Blood Earth Fire | Whāngai Whenua Ahi Kā exhibition; an account of the transformation of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Past a row of suspended hand saws, blades polished to a dull shine—the saws that helped fell much of our forest, including most of the giant kauri. Past a cabinet where introduced mammals posed, transfixed by the taxidermist’s art: a huge-antlered red stag frozen in mid charge; the ubiquitous possum; the exasperatingly iconic sheep. I moved on. Around the corner, I came across an alcove, carefully, respectfully illuminated. One wall simply listed extinct New Zealand birds, a litany of irredeemably vanished species. Next to it, a display contained relics of huia. Several beaks, artificially polished, trimmed with precious metals—a brooch, a pin for a fob chain. Things like that—I don’t remember, or didn’t pay attention. All I saw were the beaks. What have we done?

Below the beaks, the curator had arranged a huia skull and a few bones, amber-yellow with age, on a dark board. Disarticulated, most of the skeleton missing. The bones of the feet still had tiny, curled claws; what remained of the bird lay in the position associated with an execution. I looked at it for a long time. I wanted to reach out, cup my hand over the small, fragile skull and let some of my own life flow into it. To tell it something—but what? That this would never happen again? That would be a lie. To ask forgiveness? Hypocrisy. That it would not be forgotten? What consolation is that?

The enormity of what we’ve done silenced me. All I wanted to do was touch that tiny skull, and I don’t know why.

In a small theatre adjoining the display, a film showed how people from disparate backgrounds live here in Aotearoa. An elderly woman, the matriarch of a sheep station in the southern South Island, described her relationship to the land:

I’ve lived here so long,” she said, traces of significant schooling still evident in her voice, “that the land has become part of me.”

I wondered why she didn’t say she had become part of the land.


Back at the big house I sat on the deck, looking out across the harbour, Dirk and Miep meditating at my feet. A blackbacked gull slid past on the air, tilting and rocking slightly, wings flexing in the wind. As it skimmed by, fast and close, it seemed I felt the air cushioned beneath me, the resilience under my own outstretched wings; I felt the slight pull of negative pressure on my back and the upper surface of of my arms as I surfed the sky. Soon after, three small birds flashed overhead, swift, streamlined, in a loose formation which they maintained when they suddenly veered East. They reminded me of small, flickering fish. Birds inhabit the air; fish the sea, lakes, and rivers. We, the superior species, creep on land, attached to its surface. Birds and fish live in an extra dimension and our only access to that life is through technology and imagination.

I have never seen an aeroplane jink and twist its way through the sky the way a tui chases a korimako through a garden; I’ll never see an aeroplane slip between the strands of a nine-wire fence like a magpie; never see an aeroplane alight with the deft touch of titipounamu clinging upside down to a twig. I’ve never seen any part of an aeroplane to match the engineering accomplishment of a feather.

On the other hand, I know of no bird that has ever lived that could lift a full grown human being into the sky, let alone over 500 at once; let alone transport all those lives thousands of kilometres. But why, as accomplishments, do these technological achievements seem so inferior to the flight of a sparrow?

It's the same in that other three dimensional world. Encased in a wet suit, breathing bottled air and peering through a mask, I felt as if I were exploring another planet, perhaps a marvellous dream. At the Poor Knights Islands, years ago, I swam through an underwater arch as early morning sunlight poured down in long beams through deep blue water; floating a metre above the ocean floor I gazed at the open mouth of a small moray eel below me and watched rays glide past on undulating wings, a strange eye looking back as the great weird fish cruised past through the arch. I’ve dived at night, in black water, into a small, long tunnel where the world ceased to exist beyond the distinctly illuminated hemisphere of torchlight. I could have been in outer space. Without bottled air, on a briefly held breath, I’ve dived down, twisted and tumbled like a seal, revelled in the pure joy of unconstrained movement in three dimensions. Yet any watching seal might have laughed, perhaps wet itself at my slow and graceless tumbling; the rays gliding past might have pitied the ridiculous hissing and bubbling form with its lumps and tubes and awkward aquabatics. If I hadn't been so full of delight—and hadn't needed the air—I'd have laughed too.

When will our marvellous technology make machines to challenge the flight of birds, the shimmer of fish? More to the point—what, exactly, will we have achieved? And at what cost?

Meanwhile, we are spared humiliation because we believe birds cannot pity us; because we think fish are dumb.

1. Evening shoreline, Eastbourne.
2. Juvenile blackbacked gull, karoro, Larus dominicanus dominicanus; Point Arthur, Eastbourne.
3. Edge of the sea, Eastbourne.
4. Evening sea, Point Arthur.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

11 May 2006

Beauty and the bird

Trying to get this posted has nearly driven me crazy. I wrote it, but when I tried adding the photos, I found blogger seems to have changed its code for incorporating photos and I could either have tiny thumbnails or huge pictures that hogged the entire page. Eventually I found a work-around, which means the photos you see on this page are full size—don't bother clicking them because you'll only get the same image. It wasn't broken, blogger—why did you try to "fix" it?! <end rant>.

Also, I'm house sitting again; a different but equally lovely house above Wellington harbour, and I'm trying to process photos using an LCD screen—not recommended, as they're very sensitive to viewing angle. I managed to leave behind most of the photos I wanted to illustrate this post and I'm not driving hundreds of kilometres back to the Pohangina Valley, so you're seeing mostly old, low quality pictures I had lying around on the portable disk. Excuses, excuses... but I do hope you'll find something here to enjoy.

At last, the tag: “post a list of your 10 most beautiful birds, restricted to a geographical region.” I'll ignore my reservations about so-called memes, which in this sense seem to me to be virtual chain letters and to have little connection with the original idea of memes, and instead treat this in the spirit it's intended. But what is beauty? Why 10? (I prefer odd numbers; even numbers seem boring, too complete, too lacking in possibility.) For that matter, what is a bird? I haven't followed this meme through the blogosphere, just happened upon it, but so far I've only found one person who didn't synonymise “bird” with “species”—Debbie, who commented here recently. That resonated. I'd already realised that one of my favourite birds wasn't a species, he was an individual—the blackbird who for several years raised multiple broods in our garden and eventually trusted us enough to take food from our fingers. He even came inside and stole the cats' food. We called him “Sir”, because we respected him. By the end of the season he was anything but beautiful in the conventional, physical sense—exhausted, feathers frayed, some missing: a right scruff. In our eyes, however, he was always beautiful. Like Clare's ravens, Sir's beauty went beyond the simplicity of black plumage. He was an individual, with a personality.

The bird Debbie identified is both individual and conceptual: it's the albatross of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. In contrast, another beautiful bird is both individual and collective, utterly real and and ignored to the point of invisibility. Here in Aotearoa we call them chooks—domestic fowls. I grew up with chooks in the back yard; my father bred prize-winning white wyandotte bantams and Rhode Island reds; I have a medal his father, the grandfather I never met, won for the same breed of bantams.

What do I find beautiful about chooks? When you know them, when you've grown up with them, when you've met them in many countries, when you realise how each bird has its own pattern of plumage and an individual personality, yet remains undeniably a chook, a hen, a rooster, a fowl, a chicken, Gallus domesticus—then they become beautiful. And, if you still need convincing, find someone with Spangled Old English Game bantams. Perhaps you might be lucky enough to be allowed to pick one up. Feel your hands encircle the small, tightly feathered body—see how it feels as light and tough as a cork? Hold it up; see how it's starting to go red in the face? Don't stress it any more—put it down, watch it shake and ruffle then look for the food it will have expected you to scatter. Then try to tell me they're not beautiful.

But what about battery hens? This is where I really begin to ask, “ What is a bird?” In one sense—perhaps the usual—a bird is a vertebrate with feathers: an egg-laying assemblage of muscle, bone, blood, and so on with particular patterns of behaviour... in other words, a bird is what makes it nothing else; the process of definition is that of discrimination and classification. This has its uses but it's like saying a cat is something with four legs, fur, and a purr. Yes, I concede battery hens are birds, even if they're not treated as such; even if they're treated as meat and eggs and nothing more—except, perhaps, as reservoirs of avian influenza, which seems to confer the right to deal with any domestic poultry in whatever way we consider expedient. But their “birdness” seems somehow diminished. I wonder whether this, consciously or not, was one of the reasons battery farming arose—an attempt to ease our conscience about treating birds purely as food, analogous to the way we degrade human prisoners to diminish their humanity and justify our own inhumanity. The simple point is that anything out of context loses something of its essence. For a long time now, I've been keenly aware of how inseparable living things are from their surroundings: a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand. Whio in an aviary are not the whio I know swimming and whistling on the Pohangina or resting on a midstream rock in remote Scamper Torrent; remove a rock wren from its hard, wild, alpine environment and the bird becomes something else. So does the place you took it from.

Semantics, you might say—but for me birds are as much relationships and processes as flesh and feathers. Perhaps that's why some extinct birds, like the huia, are still real for me—precisely because they have the power to affect me. And birds are more than species; they're individuals and sometimes they're higher taxonomic levels, they're ideas, they're much more, and if you recognise just one of those aspects, you're missing much of the beauty of birds.

Why 10? As I write this, I haven't chosen the 10 birds I consider most beautiful. I know some I'll mention (I already have), but any list is a comparison that says this is better than that. I admit that some birds thrill me in ways more common birds seldom do, but I'm nevertheless disinclined to demean those more familiar friends by excluding them from an artificial list. Still, Clare's tagged me and I'll do it, restricting my choices to birds from Aotearoa/New Zealand. I'm supposed to asterisk birds I've seen, but have I seen a huia? Has Debbie, or anyone, seen Coleridge's albatross? Am I being perversely contentious? Probably, but I don't mind.

Now, finally, here's a list of some beautiful birds. If I knew enough about computers I'd write a little program that floated these names randomly around a page, occasionally bringing any one or other into prominence, then replacing it with another. But I don't, so you'll just have to imagine it.

NZ rock wrens; piwauwau; Xenicus gilviventris*
Whio; blue duck; Hymenolaimus malacorhynchus*
The New Zealand wattlebirds (Callaeidae): Huia, Heterolocha acutirostris (*); kokako, Callaeas cinerea (*); and tieke, saddleback, Philesturnus carunculatus*
Any chooks allowed to live the way chooks should*
The little owls (Athene noctua) that lived in the rough little valley where I grew up*

And that's enough. How can I possibly include Kea (Nestor notabilis*) and Karearea (NZ falcon, Falco novaeseelandiae*) and be forced by an arbitrary number to exclude titipounamu (rifleman, Acanthissita chloris*) or hihi (stitchbird, Notiomystis cincta*) or any others?

I can't. What I usually conclude is that the most beautiful bird of all is the one captivating me right at that moment.

1. Red-billed gull, tarapunga, Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus; Kaka Point, Catlins.
2. Mongolian chook; Tosontsengel.
3. Takahe, Porphyrio mantelli hochstetteri. This is a repost from my no longer active OutsideIn blog.
4. Kea, Nestor notabilis. This is a repost from my old blog.
5. This is Ralph. He and I can't decide who's looking after whom, but we stick pretty close. He's the reason I'm likely to end up with OOS and curvature of the spine and loss of feeling in my legs—he's big and he likes laps, particularly when there's activity like typing going on.

Right, I give up.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor

06 May 2006


[Still mulling over Clare's tag... the post isn't far off now. Thanks for that, Clare—I think. In the meantime, enjoy this boddhisatva.]

Photo © 2006 Pete McGregor

02 May 2006

Crap writing

Patry is working on equanimity. I’m not sure I’d recommend this exercise to her, but I found it effective. To the best of my knowledge this is the only ode ever written about one of these subjects.

Equanimity—an ode to cat shit

One long rope the colour of clay,
resilient as putty; the tail end almost liquid
with a reek to revolt the dead. Dung

doesn’t do it justice—nothing less than pure shit,
the disaster following an evacuation. There, festering
on the floor, a true test of equanimity. Even

between tripled tissue the texture’s there
a soft pudge of disgust on a quick flight
a dump dumped and flushed. You wonder

maybe it was a gift, the chance
for enlightenment, like the splash of that turd;
but you’ve missed it, glad it’s gone

down the drain. Equanimity, you think
if enlightenment’s too lofty you’ll settle for less
—equanimity; washing your hands of it

only to throw them up when you glimpse
a golden pool and find a puddle of piddle. Equanimity
you think, setting about the sopping up. Pissed off

perhaps, but you have to laugh.
Lesson learnt.

"Did not one of the great masters attain enlightenment upon hearing the splash of his own turd into the water?" P. 233 in Matthiessen, Peter 1978: The Snow Leopard. London, Harvill. 312 pp. ISBN 0-00-272025-6.

Photo 1: Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington harbour. From Eastbourne.

Photo and words © 2006 Pete McGregor