18 January 2008

The tides is pulling me

Every day is a journey and the journey itself is home

No, I haven't forgotten how to write right. The words are the conclusion of a post I wrote just over two years ago; the image is based on a recent photo of rapids in a small gorge in the Pohangina River. I don't know how to label this. It's not a photo; "image" is too wishy-washy; "artwork" too pretentious. Moreover, it probably benefits from a little explanation, even if the explanation's indirect (and regarding that, I'd encourage you to read Dave's post at via Negativa — a typically thought-provoking discussion about artists' statements and other challenging ideas like the concept of "nature porn"). I suspect "play" and "experiment" are more accurate descriptions.

I'm heading away again, this afternoon, down to the South Island, to meet up with the rest of my family; the first time we'll all have been together for a very long time. Longer blog posts, with more to say, will follow, although perhaps not just in the next few days. But, perhaps this — whatever it is — says what needs to be said, right now.

© 2008 Pete McGregor

16 January 2008

Hone Tuwhare

Evening surf, Wairarapa

Hone Tuwhare died today. As was the case with Ed Hillary, I'd been bracing myself for this for some time. I wrote this poem a few years ago.

Tuwhare's Mussel

what words could ever say
what you ask for. for him.
it’s worse than wrenching winter
mussels from wild rocks wet
fingers numb, cut and the sea

saying one day, one day mate i’ll
claim y’ back. fed you all these
years the saltsweet kai moana;
kutai, kina, fishheads to get eyeballs
rolling, the black-muscled foot
food for your soul. not just
that lipsmack and belly i’ve fed.

You think, sea, the victory’s yours
as you eye him up alone and barefoot
on the final coast the same wind
rarking up his hair, your combers, rolling
and sliding under the flexing wings of
toroa back from your midnight heave.
his only land between his toes
his world a whorl of words one’s lost
to emulate spiralling inwards around
reflection. You think the tide will turn
believe your smack and thump, your
kelp-coil surge and suck will claim him
seafood, land and all, a feed of muscles,
slurp him down and belch him back—

Sea, you forget his words
claim you.

Kai moana: seafood; kutai: mussels; kina: sea urchin; toroa: albatross.

1 & 2. Evening on the Wairarapa Coast, January 2008.

Photos and words © 2008 Pete McGregor

12 January 2008

Ed Hillary's new challenge

Prayer flags, Annapurna Sanctuary Trail
Ed Hillary has gone. Already a legend, he now faces another challenge — that he will become lost among the excesses of eulogy, that the legend might become so conflated with myth that we no longer know who he really was.

On the day he died I heard two of his friends, both well known media personalities, reminiscing about him.
“The thing about Ed,” one said, “was that he had no negatives.”

Supererogatory statements like that diminish him by suggesting he did in fact have flaws which must be denied. The urge to laud those we love is understandable, but comforting ourselves should not be at the expense of accuracy; to overpraise EdRock breaker, Sinuwa is essentially selfish because it denies others the chance to know the real person. In contrast, the tears on the cheek of Ed's friend, George Lowe, and his inability to say more than a few words, said far more about the effect Ed had on those who knew him.

I knew only the public persona. I never met him. I did hear him speak, once, many years ago when he toured New Zealand with the film of the then recently completed Sea to Sky expedition, the journey by jet boat up the Ganges. I'm afraid what I recollect most is his description of the snake he'd been given to hold. He described it as a horrible, slimy thing. One forgives someone like Ed Hillary for lapses like that, but what would one achieve by denying he said it? I certainly hope that when I cark it [1](I think Ed used that phrase, too) those I love will forgive rather than deny my saying I love snakes and think they're wonderful.

Ed Hillary accomplished marvellous things; he had remarkable personal qualities — physical and mental strength, determination, approachability, humour, the willingness to see a project to a successful conclusion, and many more. But he wasn't perfect. Now, when we feel his passing so keenly, I won't point out examples of where he might have been fallible; a little research in the public domain would give you an idea, and it's wrong to speculate about any known only to those who knew him. I'll say only that while it's fine at this time to overlook his failings and focus on the characteristics and achievements that so deservedly earned him his reputation, he was, nevertheless, human like the rest of us.

And he didn't conquer Everest. He and Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the summit and return safely; moreover, they accomplished the feat not alone but as representatives of a large, well organised expedition. Neither man would have summited without the other, nor without the huge, multinational operation that put them within reach of the summit. That being said, whether the expedition could have put anyone other than Hillary and Tenzing on the summit might be arguable but it's improbable. They were clearly the strongest pair and worked together particularly well; the chances of success for any other pair would have been far less. Yes, they stood first on Chomolungma's summit, but not solely through their own efforts. And what exactly was conquered?

If you believe mountains are more than ice and rock and extreme cold, if you believe a mountain might recognise you and respond to you, then Chomolungma could have killed Hillary and Evening silhouette, Annapurna Sanctuary TrailTenzing as easily as it might shrug an avalanche from its shoulders. That it didn't, suggests it allowed them the summit; perhaps it rewarded them for their determination and tenacity. On the other hand, if you believe mountains are nothing more than the products of geological and climatic processes, in what possible sense might you consider a mountain conquered?

No, if anything was conquered, it was human frailty. Chomolungma wasn't conquered; nor, unfortunately, was the human ego that insists on thinking it was.

And please stop referring to him as “the greatest New Zealander”, whether or not you qualify it with “arguably” or with the meaningless phrase, “of our time”. Greatness should not be competitive; to make it so lessens the achievements of other great New Zealanders. Call him great and leave it at that [2].

Ed Hillary's death isn't the tragedy some have claimed. He was in failing health for some time and many who knew him had been anticipating the inevitable. No one, I believe, thought he needed to prove anything more. His death isn't a tragedy, it's an invitation to remember, reflect, and celebrate. A degree of sadness is natural, but to call his death a tragedy devalues that word in the same way excessive eulogies diminish his memory. I don't want him canonised. Nor, as his own words make clear, would he.

1.“cark it” is New Zealand vernacular for “die”. This usage differs from the usual dictionary definition of “cark”, which generally suggests it means
to be worried, uneasy, or alarmed. Mind you, I'm sure that's how most of us would feel if faced with the imminent prospect of carking it.
2. For me, his main claim to greatness was what he did for the people of the Khumbu region of Nepal; schools, hospitals, water supply systems, etc. As for his mountaineering accomplishments, yes, that summit was special under those circumstances, but what I most admire was that he not only did it, he survived. In general, the mountaineers I most admire are those who didn't die doing what they professed to love.

Photos (click to enlarge them):
1. Prayer flags on the Annapurna Sanctuary trail, Nepal.
2. One of the locals at Sinuwa, on the Annapurna Sanctuary trail.
3. Evening silhouette, loc. cit.

Photos and words © 2008 Pete McGregor