11 September 2007

How to get lost

Leave the highway and follow the gravel road past the row of macrocarpas, the old woolshed with its lichen-smothered yards, the derelict cottage, one window opening glassless into the vacant dark, the dark full of memories and the scamper of small feet, the other window opaque with age and grime, like a cataract. Both eyes blind. Leave the car at the broken gate; follow the track under the pines; stop for a moment to listen to the wind whispering in the needles and to feel the softly rotting litter under your feet. Then carry on, up over the hill.

Manuka scrub, a few half-wild sheep shedding ragged fleeces. A little colour in a bitterly cold sky filled with the sound of distant surf and a skylark's song—but the bird cannot be seen. At the far end of the small lake a kahu floats on wide wings, tipping and circling above a wetland of rushes and raupo. There the lake becomes the wide end of a rough gully patchworked with old gorse, through which mahoe and five-finger have begun to grow, replacing it. With time and luck, they too will be replaced and a future forest might muffle your footfalls. But now, pick your way along the sheep track skirting the wetland. Perhaps you'll flush a pair of ducks; in years gone they might have been greys but these days they're more likely to be mallards or hybrids.

Silvereyes scatter on the wind, past the rattle of cabbage tree leaves black against the light.

Follow the sheep track up through the tussocks and back 40 years; watch the old hare lope over the skyline. You're no threat to him, but he wants to be on the safe side. By now you are becoming like him, each step taking you out of the world, back to the time before the little strangers arrived, back to the time before the tide washed away the first footprint with five toes; forward to the time you can be forgotten. A gust of wind wrinkles the surface of the lake and the world vanishes.

You are the air in flight, a ripple in long grass. Sweep on over the hill, into the evening, following the hare's long lope; you will reform in the lake, somewhere between land and sky.

You are the wind, the light reflected, movement and moment. You are the sound of the surf beyond the low hills, a sound repeating the story of your life, over, and over, and over.

The passage is short and footnote markers would interrupt it, so I've not indicated them in the text.
1. Macrocarpas—Cupressus macrocarpa. The common name is Monterey cypress, but here everyone calls them macrocarpas.
2. Manuka—Leptospermum scoparium; sometimes refers also to kanuka, Kunzea ericoides.
3. Kahu—the harrier, Circus approximans.
4. RaupoTypha orientalis.
5. Mahoe—whiteywood, Melicytus ramiflorus.
6. Five-finger—puahou, Pseudopanax arboreus.

7. "...greys..."—grey ducks, Anas superciliosa, are native in Aotearoa, but are becoming increasingly rare as the introduced mallards compete and hybridise with them.
8. The Maori name for silvereyes, "tauhou", means "little stranger", a reference to their recent arrival in Aotearoa. Presumably blown across the Tasman, they were first recorded here, near Wellington, in 1856.
9. "...the old hare.."—there's a photo of someone like him in this post, and another here.

1. Tauhou, the waxeye, white-eye or silvereye; Zosterops lateralis.

Photo and words © 2007 Pete McGregor


Brenda Schmidt said...

That's beautiful, Pete. I'll return to this passage on mornings like this when I need reminding.

Emma said...

Ahhh... lovely.

Zhoen said...

This is what it means when I say I do not fear death.

pohanginapete said...

Brenda; Emma — thanks. Glad it struck the right chord.

Zhoen — yes. I'm not in a hurry, but trust I'll still feel this way (eventually).

burning silo said...

Beautiful piece of writing, Pete. On a personal level, the mention of woolsheds and fleeces and sheep tracks brought back a few memories of learning to shear sheep about 25 or so years ago - from a NZ fellow who had relocated to Canada. (-:

burning silo said...

Forgot to mention that the photo of the Tauhou is wonderful.

Moe said...

Splendid photo and very well written.

pohanginapete said...

Bev, I'll restrain myself from making jokes about shearing sheep, in case any of my Australian friends can't resist the urge to respond ;-P
Glad you enjoyed the post.

Moe, thanks!

christy lee-engel said...

Dear Pete -- agreeing with all the previous comments! lovely, lovely, this sense of movement and of the body feeling the movement, and the sounds and the lights -- sensation intense enough to ache, perhaps -- except that then there's nothing there to ache, nothing to be pierced, transparent to the world washing through.

Avus said...

Lovely meditation, Pete.
Regarding Hares - you reminded me of a bit of Masefield's "The Everlasting Mercy"

"Knowing again the bursting glows
The mating hare in April knows.
Who tingles to the pads with mirth
At being the swiftest thing on earth."

It has always stuck by me - it's a bit like the way a motorcyclist feels, on a skittish bike, on a curving road, with a following wind!

Anonymous said...

Now I'm REALLY blown away!

pohanginapete said...

Christy, I biked along the coast this morning (I'm back at Eastbourne) and felt very much like what you describe — that ethereal lightness; so little "I"; so much simply part of everything and nothing. Thanks for your thoughts :-)

Avus, I didn't know of that quotation from Masefield's work: thanks! I love hares; they're pests here but they're also wonderful loners, so at home in their solitude, often in wild, high environments (which is partly why they're also pests...).

RR — well, I'm sure some people think I'm full of wind... ;-P But thanks!

Pete said...


That is such a beautiful piece. By the time I'd finished reading it I was there. Thank you so much for such a calming post.


pohanginapete said...

Cheers Pete, very pleased it worked for you :-)

jacqueline b said...

I just wanted to say i dont think you should hold back on the sheep shearing jokes..

pohanginapete said...

Ah, Jacq, that's very brave of you — or do you want ammunition with which to defend yourself over there?

Avus said...

"I love hares; they're wonderful loners, so at home in their solitude, often in wild, high environments"
Could there be a bit of Pete in that quotation? (note I left out the bit about being "pests"!)

pohanginapete said...

Hah! Thanks for leaving out the "pest", Avus — not everyone who knows me has resisted the temptation... ;-)

butuki said...

You seem to have settled right back into Pohangina, Pete, as if you were never away. If there is one place I feel that way about it would be Eugene, Oregon, in the States. There wasn't a single day during the nine years I lived there that I wasn't in love with it. Perhaps knowing that has made it hard to live everywhere else afterwards. Oregon spoiled me. I've been looking for something to take its place ever since.

I love when you write about Pohangina... the connection comes across as deep and tender. It's the way all people should feel about the places they live.

pohanginapete said...

Miguel, I think I did settle back well, given the duration of my journey and how wonderful it was. The return hasn't all been plain sailing, though — I've often felt a heightened restlessness, an increased awareness that there are so many other places I'd like to explore; so many places to which I'd like to return, also. At times it can feel like an ache, but there's solace in where I am, and in the company of my friends (I wonder how much of your love for Oregon arose from friendships there?)

As for the Pohangina Valley,... well, it's a very special place and that certainly helped my return. The same can be said for much of Aotearoa. However, it doesn't suit everyone — some people feel isolated, denied that feeling of being among the world's movers and shakers — marginalised, I suppose. I'm lucky; I don't feel at all like that.

Anonymous said...


This post speaks to me of eternity.
I don't know who said this - I heard it on the radio and scribbled it down: "The present is the moving edge of the past."
The infinite number of "the present"s that are now the past!


pohanginapete said...

Peregrina, I don't know that quotation, but it resembles Alfred North Whitehead's beautiful statement, "The present is the fringe of memory, tinged with anticipation."

The post speaks to you of eternity... that's a wonderful compliment and a great insight. An insight for me, that is. I think you've put your finger on something I couldn't, and which Zhoen also touched on. I get the feeling others who commented also felt something similar, and I'm glad I finally decided to post it. I almost didn't.

Thanks, P.

Anonymous said...

Pete: as far as I know that isn't a quotation from anything. It was something someone said to Kathryn Ryan during an on-air conversation. I was so excited by it that I forgot to write down the person's name.

What a poetic statement by Alfred North White! It's the first time I've heard it. I'll certainly remember it.

Interesting that you almost didn't post this piece. I, also, am glad you did. It touches on something deep. Obviously its harmonics resonated with others, too.


herhimnbryn said...

Getting lost was so very calming after reading this Pete.

pohanginapete said...

You got lost?! Actually, in the right circumstances it can be a wonderful feeling. Rebecca Solnit discusses it in "A Field Guide to Getting Lost". Well worth reading. (You'd probably also appreciate her earlier book, "Wanderlust".)

I bet a good glass of wine (a glass of good wine?) helped with the calming, too.