18 October 2009

Memories, dreams

Waking, I remember a line of broken-down houses, hardly more than shacks. I remember derelict 1950s houses with broken windows, mouldering sofas on rotting verandahs, old cars being slowly consumed by rust and lichen on what were once, long ago, front lawns. Weeds grow along rutted driveways; vines smother walls and lever guttering from peeling, corrugated iron roofs that bang in the wind and leak into ceilings full of dust, forgotten boxes of old magazines, abandoned wasp nests and silent spiders. In a back yard, fowls scratch and dust-bathe among straggly weeds in a run fenced off with chicken wire and posts of desiccated macrocarpa, some as thick as a wrist, others the thickness of the lower leg of a horse. A scrambling rose entwines one end of the run, its faded pink flowers incongruously bright against the grey and brown fowl-scraped soil, the silvery-grey of the wooden fowlhouse, the dull yellow-green of the withered weeds.

Yet people still live here. A man limps out of a shed and lifts his battered fedora to scratch his head. He replaces the hat with a slight forward tilt to shade his eyes from the weak afternoon sun. Surf breaks on the nearby beach, the sound as permanent a part of the yard as the fowl run, the shed's bleached weatherboards, the patch of ragged cabbages with its joggling white butterflies, the paling fence stained black with waste sump oil, the Albany Surprise stretched out along that fence, its dense green foliage revealing glimpses of sweet, dark grapes swelling in the afternoon warmth — oh that delicious muscatel taste! The eyes of a cat peer from shadows behind leaves.

Someone speeds up a pot-holed driveway on a bike and dismounts on the run, dropping the bike by the concrete steps as he runs inside, slamming the door. Three youths, observed, quickly cover something with an old sack. A face peers from a glassless window and calls out, then withdraws into a dark, unknowable interior. The hazy sun and relentless roar of surf oppress a world full of hidden things and things hiding; a world of desperation on the fringe of violence, where authority carries no more weight than a challenge.

I wake and remember this line of broken-down houses, which I know is in a suburb by the sea, a real place — a place I could visit. What I don't know is whether these houses and driveways and inhabitants are memories or dreams.

1. Albany Surprise was the distinctively flavoured grape that grew in every New Zealand quarter-acre section in the mid 20th century. It's still available, but not as common as it once was.
1.Once, years ago, this housed chooks.
2. Part of the ANZAC memorial on No. 4 Line, Pohangina Valley.

Photos and original text © 2009 Pete McGregor


Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this, Pete. Do you find that the more time goes by, the less you are able to tell whether something was a dream or a memory? I am finding that to be the case.

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

How 'bout when dreams 'materialize' in daylight?! Very cool post - thanks!

Zhoen said...

Wherever people are, they someday won't be. Time will eventually erase us.

Avus said...

Chuangtse once dreamt he was a butterfly and could flutter his wings. On waking up he knew he was Chuangtse. But then he wondered which was real - he dreaming he was a butterfly, or was he really a butterfly dreaming he was Chuangtse? "This floating life is but a dream".

pohanginapete said...

Emma — definitely. I trust it's just that I have so much more to remember, rather than a consequence of natural senescence ;^)

Cheers Barbara. Dreams materialising in daylight would freak me out, I think, even if they were good dreams.

Zhoen, that's very true, but another way of looking at it is that, as T.S. Eliot put it, all time is eternally present. I guess that's of marginal comfort from the perspective of personal consciousness, though.

Avus, thanks for that. The story seems familiar, but I wouldn't have known it was Chuangtse. I had a quick look at the Wikipedia page about him and think I'll investigate more — he sounds like quite a character with some interesting ideas.
Occasionally I've remembered being in that half-awake state where, like Chuangtse, I had no idea whether I was awake or dreaming. Sometimes the eventual arrival in the fully awake state has been terribly disappointing ;^)

Anne-Marie said...

As I read this I thought you were describing the settlement at Earthquake Bay. This is how I imagine it to have been when people lived there.

Beautiful writing, as always, Pete.

Doctor FTSE said...

Attractive and interesting photographs. I notice that a CLICK on most off them jumps the viewer out of the blogpage and onto a screen displaying the original upload. A click on the "Back" button is then required to return the viewer to the blog. If you want this not to happen, the remedy isn't too tough! Have a peep at my blog "A Tip For Bloggers"

Hope you don't find this impertinent!

I have a Canon EOS 400D - which spends most of its time photgraphic the grandchildren

Very best wishes.

pohanginapete said...

Anne-Marie, thanks :^) That Earthquake Bay settlement does have a similar feel. I think it's the feeling of being set in a particular time, which is always present (as Eliot said). However, the statement in the final paragraph — that the location is a real place — is definitely true.

Doctor FTSE — not impertinent at all: much appreciated. Your tip works perfectly and I'll use it in future for the larger (full size) photos; the smaller photos I'll leave clickable because they'll open in a larger format. Thanks :^)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
I read this a few times and could not pin point the strong reaction I felt. Then I just remembered being a young kid driving through the then very run down Oneida Indian reservation on our way up north for holidays. This is just what it looked and felt like.

pohanginapete said...

Kia ora Robb. Good to hear it evoked strong memories, and it's fascinating to realise it's so pertinent to contexts apparently far removed from those that prompted it. Maybe all, or most, of us recognise something universal in these kinds of places and lives, gradually falling into ruin, always present even after they've gone.

Batteson.Ind said...

I have dreams like these.. ones so tactile that you cannot escape them for days.. and after a year or two, they merge into actuality. I'm sure travelling must be like this, on the return from a mindblowing journey and the every day kicks in it must seem like the places were only visited in dream. Beautiful writing.. :-)

pohanginapete said...

Watercats, I think that's a good point — those intensely vivid dreams can easily become memories. I have to say, I find it disconcerting to be unsure about whether I'm remembering a dream or something that "actually" happened. Makes me doubt my grip on reality, sometimes!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Such vivid writing - i could actually feel myself on those streets.

Both myself and my partner have been known to act out on dreams (though not frequently) and say random things - they say that dreams are the brain trying to make sense of what it has seen.

Actually - i have one particular memory that is so surreal that i can only think it must have been a dream and yet...

Doctor FTSE said...

I have extended my html edits a bit! Go back into the html and delete also "cursor:pointer; cursor:hand" from right after the html that you have already wiped out. This edit prevents the cursor changing to a "hand" when you move into your (unlinked) photos. It will stay as a "pointer." This tidies up the appearance of the post as the viewer moves around it. Be careful you don't delete remaining colons and semi-colons! I bet you can now see that COLONS separate the various html TASKS and within these colon separators, SEMICOLONS separate the task and its parameters.

Doctor FTSE said...

YIKES! In my recent post (22 Oct) - I have the role of the colons and semicolons wrong way round. Dr.FTSE needs to see and html doctor! Apologies.

pohanginapete said...

Hungry Pixie, dreams really are weird — at least those we remember. However, research where sleepers are deliberately woken while dreaming and asked to record their dreams paint a different picture: one of relatively mundane dreams, generally with little in common with the vivid, strange things we remember. The theory is that we recall the vivid dreams because they wake us. Makes sense, I guess, even if it does seem disappointingly boring.

Dr FTSE, thanks for the tips (no problem about the punctuational mixup — it was clear when looking at the HTML anyway). I'm using the tip for new posts, here and on my photoblog, but the new post-editing form in Blogger keeps replacing the deleted material with stuff it thinks should be there, and won't accept the "cursor: pointer" command. I'll figure it out eventually, but in the meantime I appreciate your help. Thanks :^)

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Powerful, evocative, nostaligic and so beautifully written. In the midst of destruction in West Sumatra, this breath of Kiwiana was so welcome.


pohanginapete said...

Bob, thank you. It's nice to think the post has provided a kind of support over there.

Maureen said...


The word "remember" comes from Latin memori, which means to be mindful of.

Beautiful writing as always. Maureen

PS: You might want to check out the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago.Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Czeslaw Milosz

pohanginapete said...

Maureen, thank you. I love that poem by Milosz. I didn't know about him until you pointed him out. His work reminds me of the poems by Jaan Kaplinski (Estonia) whom I met in 2002 — that same, seemingly simple yet deeply aware quality. I must track down more of Milosz's work.

Maureen said...

Pete, thanks for the Kaplinski suggestion. He has an interesting website. Someday I would love to hear the circumstance of your meeting him! Glad you like Milosz as well.

Brenda Schmidt said...

"a world full of hidden things and things hiding"

I love that! What an evocative post.

pohanginapete said...

Thank you Brenda :^)

Lené Gary said...

Your words are as vivid as your images, Pete. Always a delight to read (and by way of your gift, wander through) your world. :)

pohanginapete said...

Thank you, Lené :^)