It Doesn’t Really Matter Any More

I’m resigned to a lot of things, many of which I could never come to terms with before.

It has been hard letting things go. Letting people go.

But when the world as I know it is coming to an end,

and those who can do something about it won’t;

Nothing really matters.

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Cragh

The Crow was reading poems aloud

From an ancient vellum manuscript

I strained to hear but could not parse,

Because of his strange accent, the words

– Which all sounded like “cragh!” –

I figured he was Irish.

Snippet.

I sit quietly, regarding the empty compartments of the weekly pill organiser.

Time to refill it. It is Saturday again.

These pills, ten and a half taken every morning and five every evening – plus an iron supplement taken every second day (because it causes constipation), keep me going.

Metaphorically – or not – they replace love, family, professional pride, enthusiasm for sport and hobby, pets, wildlife, aquaria and frog ponds. Things that kept me going.

Again. It is empty again.

I look into the compartments, each a morning or an afternoon, and try to recall how it was I filled them. How I took again from them the medicine of each hour, and used it.

Medications

Circumnavigation

Writing my short piece of blank verse about my expedition into Mayor Island reminded me of another small odyssey undertaken in the same month. I was camped in South-east Bay for a couple of months. I had originally gone there with Glenn for a fortnight but I was having such a good time I stayed on after he went home. I was getting on right well with some of the other campers in my own age group, though I don’t recall their names now. We dived and fished together, shared meals, and drank at the big game fishing club where we also traded crayfish for supplies. The demand was high and the payments in kind were generous.

It was mainly through that illegal activity I was able to stay on camping so long, though at one point when the weather was bad and I couldn’t fish or dive, I was down to half a bag of onions and a loaf of mouldy bread. It was then I learned that if I trimmed off the mouldy crust and the black fruiting bodies of the mould, I could fry the bread in butter and it tasted like Madeira cake, because the hyphae of the fungus had grown through the bread and turned a lot of the starch to sugar. Fried bread and onions. Great sustenance.

I was even recruited as deckhand on a charter boat for a couple of days. I worked for food. The skipper loaned me a dinghy for a day. I took it out to the eastern side of the island where I caught the largest snapper I had ever seen. I took it back to the big game club and they weighed it for me. It was, as I recall somewhat over thirty pounds in weight. There was much excitement and the manager went off to consult the books (no internet back then).

It turned out I had caught a pinfish. A new weight record. Unfortunately as I was not a member of any fishing club it did not count. No pin. No record. But for a time I unofficially held a record. I heard later next year that a larger fish had been caught. The internet tells me that the latest record holder is Kiwi angler Neil Gorringe who caught a 32.5lb (14.75kg) snapper on 8kg line in 2016.

The biggest adventure was a snorkeling morning that turned into a bit of an odyssey. Five of us set out from western bay and at some point, far from where we had entered the water, we wondered how far we had come. I decided it was far enough to have go at continuing all the way around the island. The others were not so keen. In the end, being young and foolish, I decided to go it alone. The others turned back.

I was fit, I had flippers. I knew I could make it, though I had no real idea how far I had to swim (turns out to be just over 11 km).

It was an adventure. I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip and logged a lot of new sightings in the logbook I kept in those days. Particularly on the ocean side of the island, where the cliffs went deep below the surface, there were species I hadn’t yet encountered. Morays, congers, sharks, grouper. Most notably an electric ray. One of about 14 electric ray species in the world, Torpedo fairchildi, is found only in New Zealand. Exciting.

I was in the water seven hours or so, without a wetsuit, and even though the water was warm I was pretty drained by the time I got back to camp. The others said they had been about to send out a search party. As I said, I was young and stupid then. Now I’m old and stupid because I’d probably try it again. The sea is still my spiritual home.

Now that I think about it, I did not really complete a circumnavigation after all. I set out from Western bay and emerged in south east bay. I didn’t swim round the promontory between the two bays. I may have to go back, and do it again.

Tuhua

The trail leads up a bush-clad mountainside
Singing with birds, redolent with earthy attar
Rustling with hidden afternoon activity.
I catch an occasional glimpse
Of furtive feathered ground dwellers
And fleeing lizards.

The path is rough; rock and root-strewn
I need my stick to steady my steps
The summit touches the sky, above the highest trees
Which are shrouded in evening mist that washes
In slow floating waves as on a time lapse shore
Branches reaching out like dark coral rock.

Above the washing white tide
Here at sunset, I made my camp
With one desire;
To sleep, and awake at dawn
To the bellbirds’ famed chorus.

The morning came bright
The birdsong, sublime under a clear sky, echoed.
The island below me a taonga of poenamo
Set in lapiz: Around my camp
Came curious weka
Enquiring after crumbs from breakfast.

On my descent I followed no path.
I had set my course on line of sight
Towards the green and black lakes
And beyond, to the obsidian cliffs
My second objective.
Though taking the obsidian is forbidden
I had set my heart on finding a piece
Suitable to nap a knife.

The going was slow. The bush impeding.
I came upon a place of silence
No birdsong, no rustling in the undergrowth
Eerie. The nape of my neck tingled
I fell into a hole
Unhurt I climbed out
And saw the overgrown hole was regular, square
And there were more; many more, man made
It was a place where people had once dwelt.
Lived and died.
I moved on as swiftly as I could

One lake was black, one algal green
I cooled myself but did not drink
I had a feeling Lethe might live within
At the foot of the cliffs I found
Tumbled shards of shining atramentous
The volcanic glass I coveted.
I took some; perhaps there and then
Began the curse that follows me yet.

I cannot return the tuhua; I no longer have it
I left it somewhere, some time, I don’t recall.
It is lost. It does not matter.

 
© 2019 ARF

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Home

Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome — there’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of interstellar space.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.

Where I am now does not feel like home. I hoped it would, but it doesn’t. It is the place where I currently live. I live in a caravan, which is an object. The caravan is in a park on Bribie Island, which is a location. Neither the domicile nor the location is home. I’m not even sure these days what, or where, home might be for me. Or even where it was.

Every place I’ve ever considered to be home has been taken from me or I have had to leave it behind. Every place I’ve been happy, I’ve had to abandon. As child I moved with my parents wherever their aspirations led. As a young man I followed employment opportunities and my own romantic hopes. For the last eleven years I’ve gone again where necessity sent me, albeit of my own free will. I have found the occasional Happy Place, where I can enjoy being alive and communing with the natural world in some positive heart-lightening way, but I have had no home in that time. No place where I could look around me and say “This is where I belong. This is where I shall stay”.

Looking back I realise I have been searching for such a place since I was a child exploring the hills and fields and streams of the Manawatu, and as a young man exploring the bush and beaches and under the seas around New Zealand

Also, of course, as I explored the possibilities of a shared life, relationships, offering and seeking love.

Home is more than a house, more than a place. It is people in familial and social relationships. Relationships which are enduring and settled. It turns out I’m not so good at maintaining relationships. Two failed marriages, other failed relationships, and very little constant contact or intercourse with family.

I’m not sure if this is caused by, or is what causes, depression.

Fortunately, or perhaps otherwise, I am comfortable and content in my own company. I don’t get lonely when I am alone. Even so, social interaction comes easily enough to me. I don’t have the difficulties that, for example, an autistic person might. I can be amusing, empathetic, and supportive. Caring. Nonetheless I cannot seem to get right the combination of interaction that will lead me to have constancy of companionship and the stability of location that feeling at home requires. Others move on. Or I must.

So here I am ageing, separated from friends and family, with my social interaction limited to a few short term acquaintances and virtual friends whom I no longer see in person or have never even met in the first place.

All I can do now is seek out a new Happy Place. One where I can stay. I have no idea what, or where it might be, though I have an inkling it must be somewhere on or near the sea. Most of my Happy Places have been. I find peace and contentment by the sea, or by water, more than anywhere else.

Does this introspective essay mean I am, after all, becoming lonely?

I have to think about that.

Crow

I talk to the birds;
None but one stay
To hear.

Only Crow listens
He Carries my words away.
He is wise and he knows
A word is a seed,
and a seed grows.

Into the forest
He takes it
To bury it deep
by the roots of The Hazel Tree.

He takes my words
to plant for me
Where they might flourish.

© 2019 ARF