25/01/92 Today was spent setting up yet one more camp, carrying boxes and hanging clothes - thinking "maybe this time I'll begin to get all this straight, get it down". That night I got myself alone and walked into the rainy streets of Wellington. Where do yuh begin? Where do yuh begin. And it always seems so bloody important. The first step, what is it like? You know, I'd really like to write a book. Habit, discipline and uncertainty sends you back again to the bookshelves. Yes indeed. This is a book. This is exactly what they look like. Ahem. The window. 'Yes, of course if it is fine tomorrow', said Mrs Ramsay. 'But you'll have to be up with the lark', she added Deferral! You have to start a book by saying "today", "right now, by hokey. I done enough looking through windows waiting for the rain to clear. Nosiree -this is page one and pretends nothing else" There had been a place prepared for me. A place in Petone, rooms of a dark mansion with high ceilings and wide corridors. Coffee arriving in urns at 10am, to be taken away again at 10:30. A stack of manuals each, pens, pencils, eraser and card with a name embossed on it. Fresh and brighter for now, we arrive by taxi, each morning for a week. The vast windows overlook an esplanade and the city is disappearing, disappearing behind mist and driving rain. The waves smash on the sand, spray thrown high, seeming almost able to beat on the windows. The pencils are sharp, the coffee hot, and day by day we in our warm appointments apply to the task at hand. Over 10:15 coffee Ferdinand speaks to a colleague. "Its not normal" , the colleague says. There's a lot of debate about the whole thing. The water is hissing down the window panes. It is now high summer. Just look at it. Five days running. Its just not normal". Dammit, said Mrs Ramsay - get your parka Jim, we're outta here - we are NOT going to torture ourselves with any more of this, any risk is worth taking if it means somehow there will be a change, we can get free, maybe even pop clean out of this book
Books must be little cages for the Mrs Ramsays and their families to flutter around in. Still I can't help but think there is something in them that saws on the bars, swings on the wires, makes a mockery of all these things that hold them captive. So I've been playing with a few thoughts about escape, and the thought too that there is something real to be escaping from. And while setting up camp the geometry of resolution suggested itself again.
25/01/92 A rainy night in Dixon street, central Wellington, unpacked gear, wandering the streets again like a loon, thinking "yes, yes you ought to get started". But what would you say. Seems people are forever on the verge on pronouncing something earth shattering, and we like to spend large portions of our lives savouring that moment. Sooo..... what would you say? I'll have to go back, back to the title, see if things can work themselves out from there:
LEAVETAKING How do you leavetake? Well obviously you'd get stuck trying it on a circle. On a line, however, you can do nothing but leavetake. I had been telling myself for so long "you must learn to leavetake, to say goodbye, its over, stop dwelling, let go...."
There is a line between two lighthouses, points that are a long way apart. It was tempting to walk along the whole line. Five months later it was done. Still, however, people notice things, a name falls in conversation, someone notes a kind of vacancy......"hmmmmm", they say, "You haven't leavetook at all now have you?"
"You haven't leavetook at all........." And I remember walking down a hallway late at night, blinking with tiredness, just wanting somewhere to curl up - a place where I could stop thinking and go to sleep, mumbling a few words at the time. The hallway I remember, and people walking along it, also finding places to rest - but there the memory gets stuck, and the mind is tired, tired, and the mumblings, the talk is all going nowhere. How long, I thought, till I fall silent - how long till this child's talk will cease, and is it true that when you stop sleeping and wake no more the world becomes a droll and uninteresting place - toothpicking your eyes open, watching forty eleven movies, one after another, knowing there are plenty of places to go, but expecting them to all be as tiresome as this place. What went astray, what got lost - what is it that can't let go. What is it that you may want to build this monument to. Is this the
first time you ever wanted to have something that lasts, like a riverbed, you want something to stop all those once upon a time words to keep it all from disappearing, slipping through the cracks. Desperate little person, dying for a solid brass monument to his hearts desire, while being unable to prove it ever existed at all. Keep a vigilant eye and a clear head. Always carry a lightbulb.
5/01/91 And I haven't said yet what we actually did on this day: It was a walk from Oban to Port William. Three of us. There was four. We lost one. The plane flew overhead as we walked up the beach, popping kelp pods. So hard to talk to, they roar so loud. Couldn't have heard a reply by then anyway, so full my ears were with the freshness of this stomping. Something terrible had happened. I had no track of it. I was thinking, "where will we sleep, what will we eat. What will happen. What will happen."
That's the way this beginning tasted. A taste of disarray. Things just couldn't help but fall crazily to bits around you. But hey, there is nothing dismantling itself so bad that you and I can't walk away from it. Walk north.
27/01/91 Oban, midday Sunday. The tramp was fairly demanding, getting used to the feel and smell of sweat. Like to duck into a hostel and wash but no money. Met some guys at Port William
with a retired fishing boat - now we're waiting to see if they'll stop by and give us a lift back to Bluff. Nothing to do but wait. Met Gabe's friend Kath who introduced us to Warren and Liz who have just finished a huge bike ride (5 months) from North Cape - swapped addresses, they gave us a seashell they picked up in Spirits Bay. Our mission, they suggested, could be to return this shell to its home.
Warren and Liz intended originally to toss it in the ocean at Oban. Ruth Rich and I bless it with beer and think of a bay none of us have seen, where we are to place it. And waiting we are, still on the wharf at Oban. No free rides back, we listen to the war on the radio, play some cards. Richard is at home in transit already; he sat in sheds, terminals, places like that round Europe and Australia, waiting for this event and that, playing some cards. He wins a lot. The rules confuse me.
ii (Miranda is very afraid. There has been a huge storm. From their cave she saw a ship in peril, mariners howling, people jumping into the water. The sky and sea and air an enemy to them all. Prospero has powers over these elements, this much she knows. Why won't he save them? "I have done nothing but in care of thee, my daughter". How can anyone make sense of this mans crazy intentions. And he says that they are all safe, not a hair turned. There is nothing, it seems, in what your eyes show you, what your ears have to say. Nothing that Prospero does not have control over, and not even the spirits seem to know what he is really doing.)
30/01/93 When I was planning this walk I envisaged dust and gravel on the very end of highway one, that we might kick stones around in. Bluff didn't have this at all. Not like my picture book of the wall of China, laying low and dozing into vague mounds in the Gobi desert. Bluff had a big turning circle, car park and restaurant, with people coming and going. Bluff, maybe, with its outpost reputation, its proud signpost telling you exactly how far to New York, Antarctica, Kalamazoo decides it is really an end point, not a transition. And that of course is a whole nother problem out here. Why do prayers say things like "world without end" - well because endpoints are illusory. Every endpoint is a slow and subtle transition with a bit of a trim here and there for emphasis. Making leavetaking a deceptive business because you can never be sure where one thing ends and another begins.
This really isn't a very helpful beginning at all is it. Already you have regrets about picking this book up. Forget I said a thing. Lets say that yes indeed Bluff really was where all this began.
A BETTER BEGINNING: How about this one: 18th century Japanese poet Basho as he set out on his own pilgrimage, taking him the length of Japan:
And though this ephemeral world is but an illusion, I could not bear to part from it and wept.
Loath to let spring go
Birds cry, and even fishes'
Eyes are wet with tears
Much better. And though you reckon you may be kidding yourself that there is any thing to run from at all, around you the sighs and moans of departure haunt louder and louder. I can still feel the cooling air of that afternoon as Tiwai point slowly disappeared around the corner. It was nearly as unreal then as it is now; after much anticipation and sneaky dreaming, telling y'self that to walk away like that, and to keep walking long past it making any sense, well that must be a fine and powerful thing, and stranger still, it must mean something.
And that was 600 miles and one year away from this camp at Dixon street. At midnight, while walking up the Terrace, I saw Lady Macbeth stepping out of a hotel (I did I swear). Boyoboy and she was dressed to kill. Dusting her hands and looking away, it was suddenly apparent that she had noticed me. Damn, when I creep these streets at night I really believe I could be invisible. I want to drift like ether, touching nothing and no one. I had come home from work this evening and slept away my corporate self; arising as a light sneakered thin shirted student again. She said that you really have to do that, place yourself elsewhere for a while, if you want the job done.
Back then I walked along the road with a head full of ideas. I had prepared myself for the journey by romanticising about it. The resolution to walk the length of the country appeared in the January of the year before. Sunday afternoons found me on the floor of a lounge in Christchurch watching David Carridine gaze silently through sun dimmed slits of eyes, forever looking, forever wondering about the past, forever walking. Even the fight sequences could look like slow, graceful, slightly mad dances, like walking itself, forever losing and reinstating balance. On the way to Bluff we had a two hour stop in Dunedin where our driver, Greg, went to visit some people regarding his university work, and Richard and I went in search of shoes. Twenty minutes later I walked out of Hannahs the proud sporter of a thirty dollar pair of postie shoes. Hurray for the restructuring of the public service; what were once standard Post Office issue were now going extra cheap because somehow they got jumbled in storage, leaving me with one very blue and one pretty-blue but-not-quite-so-overt-about-it shoe. The dream of leavetaking, being present and alive, yet eluding, slipping, fading, vanishing, becoming water before every attack. Between the end of that year and the beginning the walk I was house and dog minding in Riccarton, complete with an armchair in front of the telly and a big pile of books. The war between Hussein and the Americans had begun I was reading T E Lawerence's account of Arabia during the Great War. I slipped into the text, eating less and less, walking further and further as the fantasy expanded. And I saw Peter O'Toole on the big screen. When someone asked him why he liked the desert he paused a little before saying "because its clean". Master of crazy wandering off and no one could really say quite what it is about that kind of carrying on, except that maybe the world showed itself to him as an impossibly lunatic place and crazy starving perambulation is a suitable, almost comforting response to it.
Round the corner from Tiwai we went, and thousands of kilometres of road lay ahead. Finally. Ten kilometres up the road we decided to quit for the night, sleeping in a roadside bus shelter. Laying out the groundsheets and sleeping bags for the first time, when everything was new. Laughing because of it, and lying awake, waiting to hear the train roll by. Morning arrived and I was impatient to get away, to get ragged and crazy, tired and broke and hungry and dreaming. The others were sleeping while I went through some Tai Chi - something I planned to make a habit of, but soon enough I would prefer to lie there waiting for my senses to arrive.
The sun was slowly on its way and cars began to move around, getting people to work for the day. But us, well today and for a good while to come we were now in the business of walking. By mid morning we were arriving in Invercargill. At this point we were all suddenly aware of things that seemed to need doing, and most of the day was spent going to and from the park, where our gear was spread out, towels and clothing hanging from trees and shrubs in the sun. We took turns staying behind to mind it all, reading books and writing letters, and by the time we finally got away it was early evening. It wasn't too long before we were wondering, again, where we would stay for the evening. The beauty of being reasonably disorganised is that tricky little problems like this don't get addressed until it is really quite necessary. The thing about being on foot is that while you can go just about anywhere you'd like, quite often you can be assured that you won't get there before bedtime. Around Kennington it began to rain.
There was a shed over a fence on our side of the road. Next to it there was a house. We looked at one another. Who wants to do the talking. Time for me to slip into the mode of thoughtful, supportive, but terribly silent type. Yay for the talents of Ruth and Rich; both able at regular intervals to become great fonts of enthusiasm and dialogue. Time and again I was to see a strange door opening and my companions setting free tides of words, all about our encounters thus far, and every time it seemed people would
perhaps, but definitely harmless. Later that evening, after sitting in the lounge drinking coffees and speaking of many things, we made our way out to the woolshed. As I lay there I thought how strange it all felt. Here we were staying in someone's shed, surrounded by their dogs and garden and trucks and fences, all because they were at that spot on the road.
The next day saw a good deal more walking. In fact most days did. Its a funny thing to write about really because its not a good idea to repeat yourself too much in books, whereas when you go for a long walk, doing repetitive actions is really the first thing you need to get right.
Sorry but I'm still not happy with the beginning. The narrator is so faint he looks bound to disappear. Lets drop this approach and return to the masters. The next book on the shelf is 100 years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This time I cannot fail:
CALL ME AURELIANO! Call me that and picture me by the sea. Paekakariki perhaps, in a small house overlooking the ocean. Call me Aureliano and picture me tinkering with tiny silver fishes, occasionally looking out the window across the water, imaging that arms could embrace that distance, feet traverse that water and three masted sailing ships transporting the living and the dead to and from this corner of the universe.
May not really be my home of course, and Aureliano not my name, but call me it I beg of you, and I will promise hereafter to be far more careful with the truth.
Ah yes, and the truth - the truth I have for you is seated carefully in a tale of walking - for sometime the truth gets a little battered and abused when left to stand alone. And this little truthful tale is so dear to me, as precious, in fact, as each of these silver fish, and every bit as carefully finished. Every bit as crafted, every bit as inexplicable, every morsel a testament to the madness that drove me hence, to hide and gaze at the distance. Melting nuggets of silver and crafting, crafting, but able no more (or even desiring) to increase its value.
Anyhow, you must stop me when I begin to ramble like this, for there is enough time to complete this story but there never seems to be enough time left to waste. So without further ado let me reach into this battered top hat and pull out our protagonist:
There he is: sitting in a house in Christchurch. It is mid summer and the war in the gulf has just begun. He is in the lounge, seated in front of the television. On the floor are layers of newspapers and a bicycle in pieces. There is a bookshelf and a dog. The television is on now, and tanks are rolling across the screen.
He is troubled. In recent years he has become increasingly unsure about a good many things; the goodness of the government, the cleanliness of the water, even (and at great length) whether or not he has always been that awfully sane. At the moment, however, he is not worried about these things, he repairs the bicycle, feeds and walks the dog, reads the books and watches the war - all things that add nicely to his own sense of relative sanity. Still, there is one more worry. He is no longer sure of his name.
Well you can see, can't you, that this is not going to be the simplest of stories to tell. You'd think, at least, that it would get as far as the hero's name without foundering, but we cannot even manage that! So, for that sake of my difficult task, let us assume a name for him. Already I am quite fond of this young man. The sad curve of his eyes and locks of curly bleached hair ofttimes gives him good fortune with women, so why don't we call him Ferdinand. Not too young, not too old, and still he retains with him a modest portion of innocence.
Of course it is easy to name him from a single picture; but he himself, with thousands of insane spinning pictures to contend with, he has a little more trouble. Occasionally he lies awake late in the morning, gripped with the notion that perhaps he is more of a Caliban, and, at other, more serious introspective moments, he curls into the armchair with vast heavy books, quite sure he would make a good Prospero.
The fact is inescapable, however; that there have been in his life, other times, and another name. It was his, and he can almost recall a voices that would repeat it often. This too occupies many a long hour between feeding and walking the dog, the continual wondering about what kind of sound such a voice would actually make.
He has spent much time lately looking for a place he might call "the start". He has something new planned, a new leg of his life if you like, a new stage of the journey; and the actions you have seen so far, the dog, TV and bicycle all become some part of the great plan. Like Don Quixote, reading about great adventures then deciding to kit himself out as an adventuring character. He reads the lives of his various heroes as once he was encouraged to study Lives of the Saints. There are ways, he can see, of seizing life and living it, entering into it with a passion. And this must be done, it must commence as soon as possible. Of course you can't believe everything you read, hear or see, but the world is (or so he believes) running out. Now, like Lawerence of Arabia, he has become enchanted with the idea of slogging slowly, drily and hungrily across a land in the hot sun: death and madness waiting for him behind every dune. A little clownish, a little melancholic, a little afraid that this war, or maybe another, will escalate to his corner of the nursery before he has learned to make sense of the world; before, (perhaps), he even remembers his name.
Disturbing though this problem is, he feels as if he may have found a solution. He relives a dream from some years ago, when he first left home and was suddenly allowed, to make great unpredictable leaps in any direction. He found himself then in a suburb based on one road that took people from an origin on the left to a destination on the right. If you ended up caught living in the middle of such a place, soon you found it hard to believe in either. The far reaches of a city, concrete and cynical, where the teachers were all men to which every thing had actually happened. "I have had thirty years in the industry" they would say. It was strangely maddening, and he would gaze out his window and dream the same new dream again and again.
"The solution", he says, "is geometric"
Later he is working in the faraway city, he has a job adjusting machinery. Every adjustment seemed to make the same vague promise, that it was the "last change necessary". He too discovered that one could soon spend "years in industry". Here too he dreamt. Then he was working to solve problems, but he worked to produce the answers to questions that were asked by other people. Not only were the solutions useless to him, but every day his own questions began to sound stranger and stranger. And he dreamt.
"Circles have strength", he said, "lines have direction" "Circles have nostalgia. Lines can begin. And they can end"
Consider the lighthouse. Stuck on the end of lines, on points, their sole purpose seems to involve the describing of broad circles. Now lines, they have beginnings and endings. You can always find out where you are on a line. But circles, they go round and round, maybe one time, maybe a zillion. Who knows. Besides. Which way up do they go? You never know where you are on a circle. Circles encompass, repeat, collect, reenact. They go nowhere that they haven't already been. You can't fall off the end of a circle. If you're still learning the fine art of stopping (and most people are) you will almost always fall off the end of a line.
If I really were Aureliano (which I may be), then, as a poor mad silversmith I would be a beginner to storytelling, and the mastering of the readers attention (which is like a ball you must hold in one hand while conjuring storms with another). If I were Aureliano now I would be bringing this chapter to a close, to rest the reader and to return myself to some fish polishing. The sun would be touching the water outside my window and gulls would be circling each other above the shore. I would count my losses: this fish has only just taken shape and yet I fear for it terribly. Strangely enough, however, it is part of a great ocean, and there may always be more fish to follow.
There is a tapping at the door....... ("What really happened" you ought to be asking. And I will tell you as Aureliano is diverted by the clink of milk in the
hallway outside the workshop. Really, it was like this: I had short hair and many changes of underwear. The washing machine had broken and we had to do all the clothes in the bath. The water turned black with my huge pile of soiled laundry; we'd leave them to soak and go across the river to drink coffee at the caff. The caff people, they were always busy, gassing to each other, getting stoned and playing guitars. Sometimes we'd sit there talking for an hour then go home without being served at all. The air was always still and heavy over the river - and the streets empty. The stories I heard around then were always about tall, tall people who, in their times, had performed extraordinary feats. Most of the time, as it turned out, however, their lives were pretty uneventful. Sometimes the H&H bus would stop at the lights alongside the window. It seemed never more than 1/4 full; lights off and video screen blinking. Another night ticking away and so much left to come. Stepping through a pile of books to the ole desk. Lots to study for now: exams, and essays and all that. Lots of funny books that could turn the world outside into a bigger place, with brighter colours, and longer, happier days. Sometimes I would say to myself, "This can't go on. It won't last. Too simple. Too happy. This is how it was. But now shhhhhhh for I must go. The footsteps on the other side of the door have disappeared and soon Aureliano's eyes will reopen and survey the room. I don't like it when his gaze passes through my body, so I must hurry back to my hiding place. He is a strange old man, and it is best to slip into his past as soon as you possibly can, for he has reached the age that some people do, when you have little affection left, and all of it reserved for memories).
The next day was the 31st. We were walking up a long straight road that led out of Edendale. An elderly woman stood on the side of the road. "So much traffic" she said. "I wait and wait until nothing is coming then I just run across the road. She led us into the house where tanks were rolling across the
or eating and I just couldn't do it. They would stare sometimes at a point in the middle of space for up to three minutes before looking away, wandering among the trees and grasses. They talked to bugs. Even now, years later their faces appear before me just as I am about to trap a fly against a window or press a cockroach into the bottom of a coffee mug. She would gently cradle it in one hand, talking in a soft singsong, carrying it away from the road. People don't take you seriously, of course, when you get this way, but sometimes the bug's gratitude is enough compensation. Off y go lil' dude. I never saw that kind of beauty again either, not on a chat show, or a big screen, or even on a bus headed in the other direction. Makes me feel drowsy, woolly headed. Like when you look out the window in another early evening, you start to draw a long breath just as the sky is beginning to sag and you exhale later when its all over. Taking your shoes off as if there were something hallowed about it. The twins hung about till then, the point you get to when the cold seems to suddenly turn on, then they turn their balanced brown ankles and disappeared.
At breakfast the next day we talked with the old couple of many things. Once upon a time this place, Ota Creek had a train stop outside the door. The countryside was covered in trains in those days. You used to catch them to go up to Gore and do some shopping. Now there's maybe two a day and they don't seem to stop. The place across the road used to be part of the farm, now its owned by the Japanese, they're about to grow apples there. We wandered round the rose garden. The cat and the man spent a while teasing each other, the cat would bite and claw and hang on to his leg while he walked among the flowers. Sometimes it would find hiding places and wait for an ankle to pass by, latching on at the last moment. Soon I had to leave and go on ahead of the other two, the post office closed at five and I wanted to check the mail. As it began to warm up I was swinging down the road, alone again. Twenty kms seem to pass by at a very even clip. Soon I am walking into the town of Gore.
The rain begins just as I arrive under the first shop awning. So this is Gore. The shop windows reveal an unusual town get your tickets here for the upcoming Glen Campbell concert, welcome to the Nashville of New Zealand. We'd missed the powered lawnmower races in neighbouring Mataura by a couple of days. ("Do they take the blades off before they race them" Ruth asks. "Well I can't be sure about that place" Nicola replies, "Maybe they don't".) No mail in the Post office for us so I wander round thinking about a place to sleep. Ruth and Rich arrive after an hour or so, soaking wet and laughing. Time we treated ourselves to a nice cup of tea. The rain subsides just a little and we go on a tour of the town, with an eye to local architecture (get a load of the Catholic church - some call it a hydroslide but I thought of a colourful frosty birthday cake, set upside down neatly on the plate) and end up under the bridge at the northern end of town. Well its a little down market really we suppose, but still our first bridge, plenty of air and rather spacious. As it began to get dark I made another trip to the Post Office and spied a sign in a shop window. Coffee and pizza drop in at the local Baptist church. Hmmmm. Yes it is this very evening, and strange it is how these things seem to happen. We reassemble ourselves and make our way in the direction of the birthday cake. Standing outside the door we stop and look at each other for a few seconds before Rich takes a breath and says "Well here goes". Then we are inside, amidst friendly faces and steaming coffees. A day of near complete silence ends in talking and talking. Who we are, where we came from, how handy the bridge was. In a while we are clearing up a little and heading back with Nicola and Andrew.
The morning saw us cooking pancakes in the kitchen then sitting around the fire making plasticine figures with the kids. I was thinking about how I expected this trip to be, all lonesome and silent, just ourselves for company. So far we had spent most of our evenings and early mornings in the company of people we had just met. The people we met never ceased to amaze us in this way. Well, we would figure later, you just don't know till you find out. The houses in this country teem with people who are, well pretty amazing.
The rain began to fall, late morning as we made our way back over Gore's northern bridge.
(Ariel is restless. For years now he has been Prospero's faithful servant, running spirited errands, fetching dew from still vexed Bermooths, and, lately, raising the most powerful and unusual of storms, dispersing passengers about the island, harbouring the ship and mariners in a sleepy cove. Now, he feels, it is time for Prospero to let him go.)
I was thinking about disappearing again. What if you could spread yourself so fine you might travel on currents of air, travel up the country like a virus. The Rosicrucians say the first step is to form a cloud, or vapour, around the body. On a white background it looks like a faint blue stain, almost not visible at all. Anything on the other side of the cloud will slowly be blotted out.
We leave highway one for the first time. Now we are travelling on a back road on the way to a town called Waikaka, one of those places you see everywhere: a pub, war memorial and grocery store. At midday we sit on a stack of hay bales beneath a wind break row of trees, eating lunch, looking at our feet, and across endless acres of farmland. By the time we arrive at Waikaka my little toes have nearly doubled in size with blisters. It is about to get dark and there are some huge tents with people inside, drinking beer and eating sausages. We wander in and get a round of beer. Then we are outside again, it is getting cooler, we are walking away from a beautiful sunset. About an hour after dark we arrive at the apiary. Then we are snug inside another house, with Keith and Fran, drinking tea and talking about hammocks, honey and the joys of arriving at a place where you have been expected.
The Grimoirum Verum suggests that we take the severed head of a suicide and bury it on a Wednesday morning before sunrise with seven black beans. The beans must be watered each morning thereafter with the best brandy you have, until on the eighth morning, if you are successful, a spirit will appear. The spirit must be thoroughly tested, and if found true, allowed to water the head for you. The following morning, the beans will be seen to be sprouting, whereupon you must have a small girl pick and shell them for you. One of these beans will have the peculiar quality of making you invisible if you put it in your mouth. (Invisibility Steve Richards, pg 66)
There are people, I am sure, who manage this feat unaided by beans and brandy; who may in the corner of a busy party, or crouching at a street corner at night watching traffic feel the pencil lines of light pass unhindered and unwary, through their not-so-crafty bodies. Perhaps these people don't proclaim their achievements to the world because it wasn't actually what they intended to do. And because, after a while, it becomes so easy that it is hardly worth talking about.
Once upon a time a curtain of transparency fell across my body. I was in Wellington, between Courtenay place and Oriental Parade. Cars were passing to and fro, breathing noisily, and I was tired of continual wandering around and around, wondering if there wasn't possibly some place that I was actually supposed to be in all this. I sat at the edge of a footpath, and I felt the curtain lower. The moment has remained in my memory, an experience that was neither good nor bad, but one that would only happen during a state of isolation. Since that time I have dreamt of slipping into the aether, no longer feeling accountable to all things visible, beyond, for a time, the judgement and analysis of a critical and schizophrenic world.
After a days rest with Fran and Keith, rearranging gear, writing, reading, practising handstands and discussing hammocks some more, we are again Northward bound. This next evening sees us walking until very late at night, sitting on hilltops talking to each other through the blackness; discussing the various merits of compasses with luminous dials; and pondering the remote possibility that we may be on the wrong road. We lay down to sleep beneath a stand of macrocarpas. During the night I wake up cold, so I crawl into the plastic pack liner I use as a ground sheet. By morning the sleeping bag is soaking wet.
A little stiff and sore, and missing the luxuries available on a main road, we are trying to work out how far it is to Ettrick, the next town on the map. About 3 kms from the town
I begin to shout, at odd intervals, "Ettrick, city of my dreams!". After twenty or thirty repetitions of this line Ruth tells me it has begun to lose its effect. According to her there was something very appealing in the inflection I used the first ten or so times, and now I have lost it. I am sure, though, that I can get it back, so continue to shout it, "Ettrick, city of my dreams!". I experiment with a wide variety of voices, and by putting special emphasis on every word in its turn. By this point I am forced to walk a little apart from the others, especially Richard, who never really felt inspired by the outburst in the first place. Well, I figure, we have thousands of kilometres left to walk, there is really no need for a spontaneous arrival of the exact sound.
Soon we see Ettrick, and I begin throwing my arms out in broad embracing gestures at it as I shout. "Ettrick!", I cry. "City of my dreams!". We are all thinking of a pot of tea and mince pies somewhere in the sun. And soon, after we have crossed the by now hallowed town limits, that breakfast is ours.
But I, Aureliano, continue my strange wailing; insisting, for the moment, that it is actually a form of laughter. Double glazing is unnecessary, I reply, the sounds of the world outside are bothering me less and less. And the sounds I make will soon become as commonplace and accepted as the man on Lambton Quay who has preached the same message of sin and cleanliness for the last ten years without seeming to attract a follower. He is now a fixture, a part of the overall expectations that the locals have for a weekday.
There is a story within this story I would like now to tell you. It is set around the time they left Ettrick and entered the world of a river, a few kms north. It happened some time before the south froze. You may have seen it on television. All through Central Otago pipes began to burst, engines became frozen, animals lay down in paddocks, covered in ice, unable to move. When ice falls this way things can take on an eerie quality of silence, and that winter was a little this way. Messages were frozen mid air, stalled on their way to their destinations. And when the thaw finally did arrive thousands of southern TVs came back to life suddenly with an astonishing collection of last year's fashions, left overs from the war in the gulf, and ads for sun cream.
Take your mind back then, to the summer before. On the banks of the Clutha. They were picking apricots. Hoo boy, experienced walkers they were too by now, having covered a respectable 100 kms on foot. they had their noses in books. they drank beer and watched the rain. Prosper was sitting in the worker's rooms sifting through his pack feeling a strange mixture of magic and desolation. And ideas began to come to him. Maybe, he hoped, he could spend a hundred or so pages reciting magic spells of his own creation that would turn this oxygen he recklessly breathes into a breeze strong enough to blow the ashes from this cluttered stage. But that only happens if someone decides to buy it. For the same reason the audience has to clap loudly for Tinkerbell before she can recover. Because even TV wouldn't be a miracle if no one wanted to watch it. It would just be another dopey artifact. Might have been left in a workshop, might have been raided for parts by the person who invented the microwave oven. Writing spells and casting magic, then is all the more difficult in a land where no one expects them to happen.
So anyway, I haven't told you the story by the river yet have I. There was a man presumed dead. Looking back it is probable that he himself had the same thoughts. Death, he figured, was overrated. It was really okay, provided you were left to your own devices. It does, after all, allow you to slip through the world like a ghost, telling as many tales as you wish - no one expecting too much sense from you.
Sounds good, you're thinking, so how does it work, how do you manufacture a ghost? Well you simply find out what is holding a person to their current shape, then you take that away. Like a glass from water, the subject somehow seeps away, evaporates, and then who knows? Probably ends up in a river somewhere. (We had found ourselves walking up and down the banks of the Clutha at this time, off into town, then back home again. There is a bridge separating the town and the orchards. Locals told us about a man who used to perform handstands on the handrail. One night, they assume, he fell off the bridge. It is not a compromising body of water. There is something in the way it beckons though, and often, on our way into town, Rich would climb up onto the handrail and walk along it for the length of the bridge.)
But let me get back to the story about the ghost. Musta slipped out of his shell. Ended up knowing nothing, not a damn squidgen about where he was or what he looked like. Ended up on a riverbank. He read washed up fortune cookies, evidence of a town upriver. But the only things in the world he seemed now able to recognise, the only useful hints he saw went rushing past in the swifter water. When you're a ghost how can you squeeze tears for a river, or bang your fist on a tree? He began humming to himself. Singing strange songs with words of his own invention. Obscure curses, for, in a world so fragmented there is nothing as distressing as that tiny snippet that makes sense. Dammit, dammit dammit.
He posted clues to his whereabouts in a payment on delivery carrier pigeon, and, on a dark dark night when the world was at its most inverted, he let it go, to sail across the sky. Physicists at the time called a meeting to decide whether the message was borne by waves or particles. Ghost man, who knew all there was about sending messages (picked up mostly from mystic Alaskapost employees who can cycle across fresh snow), elected not to tell them and returned to his fortune cookies.
The message said: "Cost of delivery is the thoughts you now use to satisfy yourself. In return receive free of charge a passage to the riverside. There is, of course, no good reason in the world for anyone to undertake the trip, the earth turns always, its face evading us and in its abdominal rumblings you can again and again hear the words 'it does not matter, it does not matter'. But if you do come to the river chances may be that the ghost will still be there. Who knows if you will still recognise him (he and the world agree: it does not matter) His eyes may be narrower, he may speak half the time in the language of dogs - nevertheless, should you turn this key you will find a welcome, the warmth of which you never came to expect."
Downstream scientists and men were looking, looking, looking for some way to bottle all that crazy water. To own it all, to keep some momentum for themselves, because they knew (as do all such people) that the world is running down.
Downstream, on the 19th we came to the Roxburgh hydro station where all artifacts ever to land in the water get smashed into atoms by thousands of tonnes of hurried water. After lunch we flipped leaves and twigs at the causeway, they seemed to float above the surface for ages before they connected with the water. Gone.
Those were insane days at Roxburgh. We were living and working with a group of meat workers from the freezing works at Bluff. It was the off season and had come to Roxburgh to pick apricots. Nights were full of drinking and talking and laughter. During the days we were either watching the rain or climbing ladders into trees, filling bags with all the fruit that was some particular colour that looked to me pretty much like every other shade of apricot. For the fifth time the boss would say, "you want them looking like this, or this", and "look at all the fruit you've missed on this tree". Hmmmmm I pondered, thinking about all the colour blindness tests I'd failed at school.... "yeah well I was just about to do that side....."
Before long the rain watching and apricot confusion became too much. I had managed to drink half a weeks wages one night at the pub, and we decided we were better off on the road. We were wandering north, savouring joyfully this our most recent departure.
Disappearing. When you arrive in a town where no one knows, or has reason to trust you, it would sometimes be best to disappear. When you need to sleep but have no money, it would be best to disappear. You begin to see why the world is so absurd to a homeless person. At nighttime, if you are going to sleep, you must either find a place where someone will agree to let you sleep, or you must find a place where no one knows you are sleeping. This must be a sign of civilisation; when night falls, all must be accountable in some way. Or invisible. In remote areas where there are no houses to be seen, it is simple enough to crawl under a hedge, or climb under a bridge. But in the places where there are roads, there are also people, and there are almost no places where one could roll out a sleeping bag without the feeling that somehow they were in the wrong place. That the right to sleep could be denied. That one could be regarded with suspicion. That one needs to be invisible. There are recreational areas put aside for such an itinerant, in national parks and roadside stops. But in the places where there are people there is the pressure, usually faint, usually not relevant, for the individual to have an address. Towns teem with people and movement during the day, and at its end, when it is time to sleep, it is expected that all should have a place to come to rest. Homelessness is an awkward condition, is it not. We walk the streets of another small town. It is around 10:30 at night. There are still some lights on, but the shopping area is silent. Every possibility, to the left and to the right is looked at. We don't want to do anything wrong. We don't want to be seen as trouble, as suspect, as irresponsible, as up to something or in the way. We just want to find somewhere to sleep. I find a large bridge to the east. On the other side there is a clearing at the edge of a paddock. It is far enough below the road that no one will see us. We perform the simple act of vanishing again.
The cocks of dawn would catch us trying to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible, and it was obvious that we weren't doing it from an urge to clear up mysteries but because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to us by fate. (Chronicle of a death foretold, pg97)
Obsess v.t. preoccupy, haunt, fill mind of (person) continually; obsessive a. [L (obsideo-sess- besiege)]
If there is a flood, remember to cling to the water, not the submerged buildings. (Gregory O'Brien, Diesel Mystic)
Caliban shakes himself, lifts his gaberdine, and rises to his feet. "Our inheritance", he thinks, "All I know, your language, and this poor island on which I am a slave; from which we have no escape. A plague on you for learning me your language."
Prospero chooses deafness for now. There is a spell, there are words. He knows them, he can control all, but keep
nothing. He cannot avoid death, and soon will will only be two thirds alive. But he did free Ariel. He did raise the tempest. He has the words, it is sure, to return himself and his daughter to Milan. Oh, if I had such words, if I had such words, what would I do.
After weeks of late nights and early mornings I fall into a slumber that lasts for twelve hours. By the 9th I am into my 53rd dream. It goes like this: Borne some leagues to sea, someone is preparing for me a rotten carcass of a butt. Not rigged, nor tackle, nor sail, nor mast. Looks as if it is made of soap, someone has placed me inside and is trimming the edges, quickly, sharply. "Hey" I think, "If I am Prospero then I'm supposed to have a daughter." I look around the boat, but I have no daughter. I am wondering if I know the person who is working on the boat. Whoever it is seems to have decided some things about me - but looking at the handiwork I feel sure that everything is in the wrong place. Not nearly enough ropes, I think. I begin to argue about this apparent oversight, but the reply is simply, "Who is carving this". "Quite right" I think to myself, "certainly not me". Hopefully, when the soap carver has gone I'll manage to arrange something. I start going over sea shanties in my head, but some have missing beginnings, and others have missing endings. I run the middles of all the songs together and it starts to sound like the wailing of seagulls. I look to the mast of the ship and smile. I suddenly see that when the soapdish is lowered overboard the albatross will be coming with me. Later that night I awake in Christchurch and I am walking along Madras street to meet a friend. He confesses that he has recently come a little unhinged. We leave anyway and walk back into town. It is one am and we arrive at an upstairs coffee shop. Sitting by a window, the type you find in old schools, with several uneven layers of thick glossy paint bearing a layer of dust and grime - pushed open so that I may blow smoke rings out into the street. Down below we both agree that the most fantastic events must be taking place in the minds of passers by. And this begins our usual discussion - a fascinated encounter with the millions of things we feel we know nothing about. Literacy, he says, is something you only read about. Numeracy, I reply, is something one cannot count on. We begin to feel that we are surely at the beginning of something, that we have finally found a starting point. "Sure bet" he says, "Scientists have looked long and hard for the smallest thing ever and discovered that while there are no angels on the head of a pin there is a lot of dancing" "Sure bet" I reply - "Historians have looked long and hard for what really happened, and what the words are for what happened and found that a) a word on its own has no meaning at all, and b) what happened is what most people said what happened"
I awoke wondering what to make of it all. What is for sure, I thought, as sure as Sycorax knew the language of jackals and Stephano had never been unhappy, as Trinculo never once slept without snoring noisily - is that the words exist, or can be formulated that will bring the ship past, that will create the tempest, land the long lost folk, the words can be arranged that will find and rename/rearrange us all, and once again the scones will be drawn from the oven at 2am, the tea will be brewed, and one will say to another, "glad you finally finally finally made it."
7:30am It is a majority morning. Five in seven. To fall behind now will create problems. The wheels will still turn (they always do), but for me they will grumble and grind. The equation is brutal in its simplicity, and again I try to rearrange it in my head. The money has to come from somewhere. I could live in a cave, I could dress from the remains of a very high tide. But I can't pretend I'm unable. I wonder how many thoughts, how many feelings have gone. Optimism amiss. Work changes you.
Above the desk is pinned Van Gogh's painting of the asylum at Arles. It's a relic, a reproduction. A smaller version of one that once hung in a Christchurch bedroom. It grew in my mind like a patch of wildflowers. And it rested as it grew and the three o'clock light fell across the yellow sun baked walls as people stood on the balcony or passed by in the shade
beneath. And though it was an asylum, this hospital at Arles, the desperation, the feeling of panic that comes hanging in the air like a frost (telling you that sunshine is a privilege, not a right), that feeling is gone. And in this afternoon, hanging out in the warm air, watching the garden swell, everyone, for now seems to know where they are.
But where are the walkers? Well now they are somewhere between Tekapo and Christchurch. From one point to the next there is hardly an entry in the diary. We're walking into Christchurch around now, taller by far than tall people. The traffic is racing by (it was early weekday morning then too) but for some reason our speed seems on a par with it. We coast, we cruise, we float into town on legs of mercury. We've stomped every bit of map from there to here, slept under trees, bridges, in barns and woolsheds. And this outdoors existence is gnawing at our insides and making our bones raw with singing.
Meanwhile a year later in Wellington on a Friday night and after work you just sit and drink beer, sit and stay because you wonder what will happen. Tonight, will someone walk into my life, across a crowded bar and sing a tune about getting away from here. Tonight I'll stay here though, afraid of going home to an empty house because people are to and fro and if you don't keep up you might find yourself sitting alone afraid to start on those great plans of yours.
And to and fro from the bar to the beer, the noise gets noisier and you look for something to say in the whole business of spell casting again. And the room is full of people drinking a potion that whole subcultures of humour have evolved around. These jokes they go to and fro saying that when taken regularly, and in sufficient doses, you can clear all those voices from your head, till there is nothing but a pure piercing sound left, easily able to crack the skull of the one who stands over you.
And so the potions are quaffed, and the spells are cast and recast, with strains of nostalgic music and strange dances. And in some few hours this kind of bingo is over for the night; with fuzzy heads and cash in the till we all head for the door. Come on back and try your luck with each other next week.
As we came closer and closer to Christchurch we started running low on books to read. Pausing briefly out of respect, Rich tore the first section out of Desolation Angels for me to read. And I read. Kerouac spent a summer in isolation on the top of a mountain, meditating, taking notes scanning the hills for forest fires. And when finally he returned to the city he had begun to miss so much he wanted to go to his favourite Chinese restaurant and eat Almond Duck. An odd sense of propriety caused Rich and I to make mental notes about Almond Duck. In Christchurch, we must find a place that serves it. Or maybe Wellington.
The vision of freedom of eternity which I saw and which all wilderness hermitage saints have seen, is of little us in cities and warring societies such as we have. (Desolation Angels, Jack Kerouac pg 93)
But the humming, rubber on road, has stopped for a while now at least. And we have now been living at Christchurch for a few days. Bursting through the doors at Condell Ave, singing gales of "where's y' fridge". The Canterbury Pilgrim Hoovering team have brought themselves safe thus far. And in
Christchurch I was walking across the square in the early evening, like one time a couple of months before. We had just been to see "An angel at my table". Do you remember the bit when she was in a cell at the psychiatric hospital and something terrible was just around the corner. She knew the surgery was coming. And what was she doing? Slammed against the door, shaking like a leaf, writing words. Words of poetry on the back of the door. People use words to save their lives - they can do that. Words to pop the doors open, slam walls down, rip back the screens and let you run away, laughing and singing.
In every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role it is ... to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality. (Foucault)
And of course these days we have big machines devoted entirely to the management of language. Like a hydro station, the flow of words through these things is awesomely fast and heavy. My task is to work on them, making the right word fall into the right place. Can you harness language this way? Can you harness water this way? It's on the way to the ocean and gets pushed around a bit, but there is a real limit to what you can do. And every day as I move some more tiny blocks around, opening this gate, closing that one, and I think of them breaking free, hanging above me in high puffy masses, washing me down, winning. And I think, "you funny funny machine. What do you hope to achieve here". But its not entirely a laughing matter I remember - thinking of the woman scratching on the back of the door. Maybe she would be like a fish in this river of words. Slammed through and machined by carefully contrived dams and causeways of words. With a fancy piece of quantum fluid manipulation she manages to turn the tide of foaming rushing syntax to her favour just once, and with a tiny advantage, she is able to slip into the spillway and swim downriver, safe and free.
There was this person who really did fall foul of such an unfortunate diagnosis. Gloomy gloomy big house, and she in a corner of it. Sitting, thinking, feeding the cat, I don't really know what she did with her days. She was still in shock. In there, you just do everything they tell you to, she said. Its the best way to get out again. She wanted to get a flat by herself, to get away from people. "If I can just get away, be by myself, then everything will be okay." she said. And you try to stop things going wrong this way, but still they come around, they pick you up, maybe put you away like that. We sat eating girl guide biscuits and smoking cigarettes. It was one of those afternoons when the seasons just change like that, bam, and they sneak through your open window scattering cards on the floor. And the passer through, was passing through it all, drinking tea and looking for stories from the road behind, as if they could add some sense to it all. Drinking tea and watching, watching.
The master dotes on disturbance right from the moment he can subdue it and call it up at his command. Conversely the hysteric is the woman who cannot ask the master what he wants her to want: she wants nothing, truly she wants nothing (Helene Cixous)
We found ourselves on the edge of a party, a restless and sprawling nighttime thing, full of songs and talking and laughter. We couldn't see where the party had come from or where it was going to: its borders continually formed and reformed. Eventually we were introduced to the host, a smiling person, who asked, with a passing interest, if we were enjoying ourselves. All around the host people were blindly engaged in the running maintenence of the event. The momentum was partly maintained by a young man with a guitar, who sang to anyone within earshot:
I'm a poor lonesome boy, I'm a long way from home. Poor lonesome boy, I'm a long way from home.
His voice swung these words and their rhythm like an easy walking load. Over and over, along uncut roads they drifted. And I wondered how lines that were made up, probably on the spot where they were first performed, in a bar somewhere, who knows, 50 or so years ago, how do these words remain. How should they be maintained so diligently though their real beginnings are now a mystery. In a quiet and embarrassed moment following a fight on the porch, the host brought us inside to look at some papers.
"A while ago" the host said, " my life became horribly tangled and split. For a long time I pondered, mourned, yelled, got into fights and cursed the fates that placed me here. Then I stumbled upon this party. I came away one night and the old thoughts were gone from my head. When I got home my lifelessness returned to me as usual. I started to spend more and more time at the party, till I found that away from it, my happiness could only be maintained for short spells at a time. Eventually the party's host decided to pull out, so I took it over. Now it is for me. See how alive it is? see how it breathes? It has become a home the likes of which I had been missing. On these papers I have begun to reconstruct my life prior to the party. I know that eventually I must return to it. Ahhhh (sighs the host with satisfaction), these notes have turned themselves into poetry, not piecing the past together, but rewriting it. Turning the old life into a new, but familiar creature."
I poured over the notes for some time: they seemed to me no more than an odd collection of words. "Goldfish" the first page said.
"Ahhhhh goldfish", breathed the host, "You see how rich the image, how clean, how repetitive. Hopeful yet futile."
I didn't really see that at all, I had to admit. The pages, no matter how I tried, could render no sense to me at all. It was as if, everytime a fight ended, or things quietened down because of the dawn, the host had gone to add another word or two. The words could trace every movement of the party, the reformations and dissipations, the decline of one boundary and the extension of another. But I could not read them:
Butterfly. Orange. Anachronism. Sleepiness.
and so on....
"One day soon", the host said, "this work will be complete and it will be my turn to hand the party on", indicating the few blank pages that remained.
About this time Rich went out and lay down on the porch, closing his eyes. "who is he", partystayers began to whisper to each other, incredulous at this very un-partyish behaviour. No he wasn't asleep; there are times, we all know when you'd really just rather lay down somewhere and close 'em. We all know this but usually feel unable to try it in the midst of a party. Masters of barely concealed commonsense, I began to conclude, reflecting on the walking team.
While the party continues, two people are sitting down by the waterfront, attempting to keep a conversation going. When you're by the ocean these things should really be an awful lot easier. Because we are ninetysomething percent water and here we are placed against another large body, ninetysomething just like ourselves, a vast body that just goes on like eternity, thousands and thousands of miles, stretching through deserts and ice, curling around streets and jungles, some places barely a ripple, other a hurricane of emotion and fury. Humming to the moon, beating itself on thousands of shores, all of which are foreign, all of which are homes.
At the docks they sit in the dark whispering jibes at a passing boat and trying, a little more sadly now, to find the same page in their respective histories. On the outskirts of a party hell bent on fifteen different kinds of resolution. "I have to go", said one. Not to sea but back through the hill. Back and humming with excitement for the place on the other side. "Hah", thought the other, counting cups overturning in his head. The place I like to feel close to by kicking across wide empty dusty spaces, saying "I don't want to be happy actually. There is something else, another reason, more than happiness or comfort and I love to stomp my bones crackly in its direction.". Treading lightfooted about a back street, pondering and pondering, wondering at how much and for how long one could want to attract someone else. About the mystery friend one might carry around in a mind, about waiting for that person to appear.
* ** * When morning arrived so did Ruth, and the team reunited we bade some more farewells and began to walk again. Coming down a hill towards the sea we parted company with Rich, a solitary chap who loves to investigate side tracks. Later that day we sat on the beach at the bottom of the hill wondering how we would ever find him again. I loved waiting. When you've got a pack with you, and nothing to do but walk, waiting changes. It becomes more like taking a break, a little rest that can become indefinitely suspended - things fall into the whole chasm of wait are normally so unsettling. You get a book out that you were wanting to get back to, you write in your diary, draw pictures, throw pebbles at some distant target, examine a spot on the ground, watch people doing stuff. You have been given, as if from nowhere, licence to do things you would not normally spend time on because normally Time is too important, is ticking away, is money, belongs to someone else, is something you have to earn.
"Aha" sez Ruth to Kez, "our boy Rich gone off again? What do we do?" "aha" Kez replies, "shore is a nice beach we got ourselves here." And so on and so on till evening, when we decide to call Wayne and Viv. Meanwhile Rich, some few kilometres along the road is equally unconcerned about the strange forces that temporarily slip us asunder, and the same giggling forces they must be that now see to it that we call Wayne from the same pay phone. "you guys haha" sez Viv "want to walk the length of the country, can't find your way out of town" "Hahaheeheehoho", we reply, not even caring, slurping coffee and rolling out our sleeping bags on their floor.
The next day found us on highway one again for the first time since Alexandra. Walking through a small town that night we decided to sleep next to a hedge. We had slept without cover before, but never this close to a main road. Nestled next to the hedge, lying in the sleeping bag, listening to the traffic race by, feeling hidden, slipping unnoticed through a busy world. I was starting to number the things that would end with the arrival at Reinga; walking in the middle of anywhere at dusk, sleeping under the sky and eating from campfires. Despite the obvious hassles involved with this way of life we never seemed to get sick of these things.
Heading towards the Lewis Pass I started to think of a trip up that way a few months before, when I sat outside the Karamea pub just as evening was beginning to arrive. I was looking forward to walking, and having so many of these kinds of evenings on my hands. Now they were happening, day after day as we walked, and it seemed very strange at first to realise that those days would run out. And the sleeping possies would run out. And the campfires. All exchanged for the daily desk and sleepless nights in a crooked crooked house.
North of Hamner. A sign in one of the shops said something about 1080 poison, dropped in that area to kill wasps. Oh dear, we think, leaving late, climbing up the track trying not to touch anything. Pretty soon it is dark and we are hopelessly lost; the track runs out and the power lines continue into the distance without us. We start to look instead for a place to sleep. This too turns out to be hopeless, and soon we are making our way, ever so slowly back to the bottom of the hill. Finally, right at the bottom, we find some ground that is sort of flat and a bit grassy. I start putting up the flies, and it begins to rain. Next morning we are back in Hamner, trying to work out what happened. Eventually we are enlightened about the correct track (walked right past it!) and we sit in a bus shelter, watching the rain, feeling kind of useless. I disappear into the public toilets for half an hour, trying to dry a very soggy sleeping bag under the hand dryer. Then (finally) the we get started again, climbing up and up into the mist and rain. The view from the top was impressive. Mist everywhere. Always impresses me. Coming down into the valley things start to clear, and our moods improve. From the enclosed feel of Hamner Springs to a wide and very empty valley. We would be following the river for the next 100 kms, and we have about 7 days supplies of food in the packs. The water is (apparently) suseptible to Giardia so we will have to stop and boil anything we intend to drink. It all seemed like a bit of a haul really. We met Harvey, the manager of St James station. He was living in a hut a few miles up the road. Would you like to come in for a coffee he asked. Yes thank you we reply. For 9 months of the year he lives here, alone in a three room hut on one of the biggest stations in the country. Seventy-somthing, still breaking in horses, making coffee with condensed milk form a tin. Radio doesn't work because of the power lines. Phone doesn't work since they came and fixed it. No power or gas. Just Harvey with his horses and dogs. A safari tourbus comes as far as Harvey's place most days showing visitors to Hamner parts of the station. (Keep those windows wound up, we giggle to ourselves, some of the stock are on short rations and can jump pretty high.)
Me, I always wanted to be a lighthouse keeper. But I'm still not that sure I could handle the lifestyle. After a couple of days you find everything staring you in the face. Furniture, sitting silent, expectant, waiting for you to do something. "But what!!" I would yell. I did sit in an armchair for six weeks once. Reading books, feeding the dog, watching the war. Making odd and vague plans of departure. The day came anyway, of its own accord, and the walking began. A lighthouse keeper - with a little goldsmith's workshop. On annual leave I could go to the town and swap the fishes for more gold. A vapoury shadow of a person, lost in the beams of a lighthouse. And passing sailors would say "has that lighthouse been automated yet?" Probably it has Mr. Sailor, you think that and I'll keep up the glass polishing and gold smithing. Some more.
We talked about camels in the deserts of Australia. They run wild out there now. For the previous forty thousand years the locals had nothing to ride around on, and they became champeen walkers. Maybe (in fact) they are world authorities on the subject, being nomadic people who had to manage totally without quadruped help. So anyway, these camels appear, and while now the Land Cruiser is the more authoritative terrain coverer, camel races are still being held in the Australian outback. Some contestants, however, still cannot refuse the call of their own feet, and they will run, with camel in tow, across the empty ground. Harvey, a champeen walker himself (I've only just managed to keep up with him in recent years, his son told us the following year), tried a camel tour himself. While most of his year are pruning roses and playing bowls Harvey sits atop one of these magnificent and grumpy beasts, and gazes at red outback sunsets.
As the light began to fall we went out to the woodshed and Harvey chopped us some kindling. There is a superphosphate shed down the track a bit, he told us. That should be nice and dry. And off we tread into the silence and gloom. Pretty soon it was completely dark, fairly cold, and beginning to rain. Our piddly torches were worse than useless for shed spotting now, and hawk-eyed but wobbly ankled Ruth had to keep her eyes on the track. I never put much stock in my own eyes; they confuse colours and distances and my glasses get rained on. "Where are you shed, where are you?" I'd spent a good part of the morning in Hamner public toilets drying my sleeping bag under the hand dryer, and was not looking forward to a night under too-small flies in this place, where, Harvey told us, it could snow in the middle of summer.
There is something odd about the way things appear at night. if you see something out of the corner of your eyes, a shape, or some movement perhaps, and you turn to face it, it will often disappear. So stomp stomp I go, brave and casual, waiting for the shed to pass in the wings, staring intently into the places where I knew it wouldn't be, bluffing the elements; "No siree... dry tonight?, warm?, hah, no concern of mine, hell I like it out here, Mother Nature's son, me".
Just then Rich takes a sharp right and starts walking across the grass. Somewhere over there is a shed. We go inside, and the good Lord let the deluge begin. "Yeeeharrr", we go, slapping thighs and laughing, "shore is a mighty fine place you got yourself here".
The road we were on at this stage followed the twin pylons of the national grid, carrying power from the lakes and rivers in the south to the North Island. Pretty hard to lose your way really with all those wires around, but Ruth and I managed it: Rich discovered us one morning, half asleep and deep in thought no doubt, wandering away at right angles to the main track. I never did count all the pylons in the end, so let it be recorded here that there are a lot of them. They cut a long straight swathe through anything that cares to find itself in the path, for around 100 kms. After a while they began to occupy more and more of my attention. Sometimes a wire would start, as if for no reason, and end a little further on. Sometimes the type of insulators used would change. Some pylons were all rusty and tarnished while others were nice and shiny. And, most interesting of all: one line of pylons were boys and the other were girls. These boy and girl giants, with arms outstretched and feet apart stood along the land like they had just finished walking themselves. Or were about to set out.
After two and a half days of pylons and river we were back on a provincial highway, looking forward, by now, to the fruits of all that generation. A sign on the road made some references to Devon teas, and there was something there about backpackers too. Footsore again, we struggled up the hill to tophouse. Inside we see that it is nearly Easter. We are shown into the living room where we sit, stretch grubby legs and munch on hot cross buns with lashings of jam and tea. We stretch back in armchairs, biting slowly and coming out with comments like "oh yes! oh yes!".
Later in the dining room the hills and river we have just passed fall into story after story about travellers through, and settlers, and old routes. Bullet holes in the wall, a fire in the hearth that has burned for three years, the right way to build a house using clay hay and cow manure.
And I start to dream up some tales to myself:
Two people wake one day to discover that they are no longer one. They begin to redefine their respective sense of security, the lighthouse on the point has died, now a course might be plotted by the stars, other lighthouses, a figure on the beach waving flares, memory, sonar, blind instinct, or maybe just a surrendering to the currents that be. How do you explain to someone else (let alone to yourself) how you once found your way? Now that way is gone and both parties begin to compose stories to hold all the shared incidents they can recall on a single fabric. The past is tied this way and that and tailored into "the garment of your absence". Something, hopefully, that will offer its owner a little warmth. "It was this way" the wearer says.
And when these people are reunited perhaps their garments will be so dissimilar that they begin to argue over individual sequins, cuts of cloth, types of stitching. The two part company, unable to linger over a brief farewell, lest their garments sail into battle with each other, leaving two naked helpless spectators.
I dallied over the creation of this clothing - beginning with a staggering stockpile of meetings, telephone calls, letters, uncomfortable moments, afternoons staring out windows, thinking and thinking and thinking.
(A plane flies overhead. It comes from the south)
In the symmetry of another Monday evening in Wellington I iron my shirts, wrinkles easing into flat easy plains of cotton, and wonder that all things don't fall into place, that all unrelated elements don't swing me, like a compass needle, into some new idea of North.
(The plane lands. Someone who knows me touches down)
Knows. Me. Talking the occasional monitoring of individual inhalations, the fond recording of facial twitch or passing grunt. The kind of knowing that is both all embarrassing and all deadening when it loses its usefulness. Once we sat on the library balcony and she said: "What about someone who really really knows something. They just know it. Then what?" (We all stake our lives I figured later) "That's not knowing. That's faith. Nothing can be knowing"
So now, far later, what if I decide I know something, what if I, after days and months staring through a Christchurch window, decide that I know something. Then what kind of trouble does that get me in?
Partway through the year I shifted to Alaska, on the end of the most unreliable postal route in the world. Singing, howling bedamned epics to huskies and playing with upsidedown jigsaw puzzles. Every spring thaw they'd pull another Alaskapost hopeful from the icy slush, more comfort than an empty letterbox in New Zealand, a phone that knew an unusable number. Sitting across a table from such discomfort space took on a new meaning. You could travel any distance, if you had the time. Any distance, that is, except for the obvious one. Casually I lean back from the bowl of soup and burn my fingers on Mars, step outside and pitch the bread roll through the rings of Saturn, and look across to the other person who is saying "Don't even try. Please. We are not who you think we are. And I think it is time to go."
Home to another bedamned epic, more disbelief, more shifting through a papery mind looking for the spell that will burst this convincing untruth.
The Spell, The Spell. I try this one and WHAM, the other end of the house collapses, that one and my hair turns green; this one and ZING, the radio switches itself on, advising us of another devastating flood in Mexico, wiping thousands of honest souls from the planet. All you know is how to get things wrong. And you don't want to do that anymore.
The phone eventually became eloquent in its silence. It became perfect company for Christchurch window days. I would sit, with feet on the heater, rearranging snippets and scenes, looks and glances and notes and requests and silences. "I want nothing more", I proclaimed, than to sort these things that have become intimate through infliction. They can hurt me no more than they have, I have found their limits, and in these limits there is safety.
(The phone may ring)
And all the time it doesn't is some reprieve and some tension. To go down town and join some people at a restaurant somewhere.
(The door taps)
All right now down into the city to find the coffee place. Short, black coffee, a heady brew in a two inch cup. And it
isn't like cinemascope like I thought it would be. She has normal human proportions. Sitting two feet away, I expected to be overwhelmed by a sudden combination of all the thoughts and looks and inflections, and sounds and postures and movements. To see it all at once, in one person, all come to life again should have been like the front row of a movie- where colour and life are unnaturally big, where everything you did and thought over (and reduced into a song small enough to hum) might suddenly hit you, BAM; and you falling off your horse like Saul, blind and amazed.
Still not believe I am unable to remember, to know the little thoughts that slipped to the bottom of the bucket. But know is not know isn't it? Know is faith. And the faith we had is different now - was forged, and has cooled over time into a small smooth hard piece of bone. Funny to finally discover it- that we play with absentmindedly, stroking the silky curves while staring out the windows, looking half heartedly for something next to say.
And our garment had become cloaks of mutual unknowing. Happy together, the weave of every past event turned over just so - in such a way that we could not see too much. The comfortable cloth of concealment. The coffee is finished and the dirty cups removed. We have before us an almost clean table. The following night I am in my bedroom, with the light switched off, soaking the rays of a permanent full moon, provided by a streetlight, as they curve around the walls and furniture. Defending my eccentricities I write with this fake light and a single candle. Hoping not to bugger my eyes any more, and trying to sneaky disappear like wax, leaving just the words. Don't want that 100 watt bulb to show me up for the ridiculous person I seem to now be (who thinks, all of a sudden, that he will set people free, yes free, with words, tearing them from this pillar of dialogue and that, crumbling fistfuls of words, trembling hands, and saying, "it comes away! It comes away!")
And how brave it would be to sit with the past, to keep it company and say "There was this time of faith - I had this season of believing and it was so much more than all this trash you see before you now. I'll sing to it, make little goldfish to it, dream of it (and yet cover it - even from myself). There was this time." And the miracle of cinemascope did not appear to me. Maybe tis as dangerous to look life in the face as death. maybe they have the same face.
(The phone is still there)
And I may pick it up tomorrow and call her for lunch. We may sit among trees and very old houses, and pathways on a hillside. And I may try to imagine what it was like before all this. What it was like when the words could tumble like leaves, not mattering, not meaning more than they did. A time when we could touch without noticing. Without wondering. And sitting beneath the trees and houses a teensy bit will return, and then we will go, before anyone gets to say anything dumb. And she will be gone. And, without a word, my imaginary friend will return.
One day we'll meet again. Another day to while the time and search for harmless phrases. To play the madman. The one who can't take it. Unable to hide the irritant that drives me stony. The itch to just go. Leave. Go:
- sure is nice beer here - yup - and weather - yup - good morning at work? - painless - yup - yup.
Or perhaps: - You must be mad and lonely - Why? - Because you can't be right.
Pro. .... a turn or two I'll walk To still my beating mind.
Pro. Go charge my goblins that they grind their joints With dry convulsions, shorten up their sinews With aged cramps, and more pinch-spotted make them Than pard or cat o' mountain.
"Solvitur Ambulando" - "It is solved by walking" (quote taken from Songlines by Bruce Chatwin)
While Aureliano nightly carves, chips, melts and heats his little fishes Caliban is stalking the streets of Wellington, looping up Raroa Road and Highbury Ave, down the creepy pathway to Holloway, talking to cats, squinting into shadows, holding breaths when he sees people, peering under cars, looking at the doors, sneaking up on possums, thinking and thinking "it has to be in this town, it has to be in this town. I remember being bent in half with it when I arrived."
Where do names go when they fall out of common usage? Like forbidden words, like archaisms, like terminology that has fallen into disrepair. He plays with names - the name, where did it go and what did it fit? Words only have meanings because they relate to other words. No word can stand alone -
it means nothing, a noise, an inkblot. Perhaps the name was superseded, like a worn out part. He recites names together and pictures nothing at all. He watches then fly, in pairs, swing, like counterbalanced weights, holding jumpy things still. He breathes them across empty spaces and imagines them travelling on and on through the night like a Kingswood on its way home. He listens for the humming. Virginia Woolf said there was humming, it backgrounded every poem and bit of prose, it was normal. Before the Great War it was normal, then it seemed to die out altogether. But then she was crazy too, wasn't she, Virginia. Hearing way too much no good stuff.
Maybe it was stowed in the hills under a macrocarpa, behind the glowworms in the botanic gardens, under a grating at parliament. He remembers the load, he remembers closing his eyes as he carried it. But now, and suddenly, he can't actually remember what it was. Stands outside the mission, thinking it wouldn't be right, to lay in my own bed now, the dreams of itching and wandering along would go away altogether. Before you know it people have you convinced that your feet never covered that line at all. That your package doesn't actually exist, they have a list of every investment you made in this town (and its embarrassing), they've checked all the usual places: no it has never been here at all. There's one little thought left in his head, and if he has to stay awake forever, and chew his sleeves when he's hungry, he'll keep it safe in his head.
Now it is time when I, Aureliano-by-the-sea must tell you about the act of walking, pointing us all, maybe to the whys involved in this stranger than strange way of behaving.
And bad timing this is too - for I can barely recall the feel of a good pack up and goodbye walk, the dreams of stomping, strolling, packing and perambulating; the song of movement and the permanence of motion; the holy gospel of the road. Now I am working from dusty aspects of the third hand, the other life, the thing that was most like a message has left me now. I do believe our characters stepped continuously and daily through the world empty of pocket, where the world seemed so bound and poised on change that just to be alive and draw breath was to take a part in the great leavetaking that is ours to survive. Where land could easily become land anew, and land with a certain amount of promise, a certain degree of welcome. But I, poor tinsmith, have lost the faith that came with walking and now prefer to sit, often by a window, as the reflections leave the water's surface, and recount my current inventory of failing limbs: of defective fingers, toes and ankles that have become cracked and strained, wires and screws that have fallen out of alignment, turning running gear designed for a lifetime into a collection of junk: more to add to the piles in this fool's workshop.
The mysteries of the body have begun to turn against me now and, reading books and leaflets on the human body, the workings of the foot, hand and heart - I have discovered that while we long to treat them as simple machines, the injuries they sustain, the repairs they effect are still little understood by anyone. Is it not, after all, blood which passes through every gram of flesh. Blood and rhythm and flows that are simply confused, convoluted, denied even by the bureaucracy of the mind. The mind that may feel sure, after all, that many things aren't All That Possible.
And so it was from a time when the walkers thought to feel the wind in their faces, the road underfoot and the rumblings of the world around. This silversmith feels the inner workings of his own body, the inner failings, the imminent and blanket refusal to continue the rambling discourse at all. "You will fall silent" nerves, muscles and tendons chant in unison, "silent and immobile. And this will all happen long, long before you really want it to."
The reasons, as usual, can be many - an inadequate diet perhaps, depriving the body of a vital unnamed chemical that oils the bones and keeps them working, or maybe the buildup of toxins from food - preservatives, insecticides and weedkillers making their way along tendons, tangling them, squeezing nerves into unlikely positions, cramping the muscles and clouding the brain. Maybe it is the lack of appropriate movement, the continual tapping of computer keys, sitting at desks, the lack of unconditioned air and rawboned, perambulating liberty.
The road now began the climb from Upper Hutt into the Tararua ranges. We have a parcel to deliver to a distant relation in the vicinity of the old Brown homestead. This land, these acres on the side of the mountains were associated with the Browns. It is raining again as we leave the main road, pulling at pack straps and fiddling uncomfortably with raincoats. Up and up and up along muddy winding roads. Another day when the weather drives us all a little further into our own worlds, with rain on the hoods and road, water on the glasses and minds in drier places. I am thinking again of the porch in New Plymouth, instant coffee, gingernuts and assorted mental exercises. The rain here and now is turning the road into another kind of world, where you don't stop to deflate on the grassy sidings. You just keep moving, have brief standing conferences, removing the packs and eating under public toilets. Water channels its way around and through the road and soil, singing a song of falling, of decline, gravity and release. Its no wonder that there is always an element of sleepiness, even in the most tempestuous of rains.
I am wearing a brand new pair of shoes, bought for a song in Upper Hutt. Never make a new purchase till it is howling in your face. Approaching Picton Ruth (who was behind me) said "by heck you must be the baddest pro-nater in the bizness". "Huh" I replied, totally unimpressed. Your new found podiatric poppycock. These feet are pretty well run in now and are just doing dandy thanks awfully. Pronate Schmonate.
But sure enough when I came to put the shoes back on and walk to Upper Hutt I had to admit they did flop inwardly very sadly, and it really might have something to do with the unsprung archless flippers that have had naked liberty around this Northland flat for some time now. After a day of walking like a duck through the Hutt valley I decided that new shoes would be a remedy in itself. They're pretty cheap, I thought, wandering through the cardboard boxes that were scattered around the shop floor, but I bet they'll be just fine.
Coming down into Waikanae, after a day's walking I was beginning to discover a completely new kind of foot pain. Just when you thought you'd had a taste of most. Wonder if you could turn off all that stuff below the knees. Most of us live pretty much for the space above anyway, maybe it could be shut down, turning the team into a kind of up right convoy of bounding hovercraft, still tired, wet and cold, but freed from this painful association with the ground. Ten hours it was, of smacked feetbones and rain washing the road clean and dirty again. Rinsing every pebble, every leaf, every seam in my shoes (which had begun by now to produce a strange pinkish foam). And at the end we were back on highway one buying fish and chips. The next day saw the rain let up a little for our trip to Levin. We walked well into the night again, with Richard showing us the bits of road where accidents occurred, where bridges were too narrow, corners too sharp. "How much further is it" we ask, whining masses of aching bits and pieces. "oh hmmmm 10 km or something." Whatever it was turned out to be wrong and wrong again. Some mysterious force had begun to move Levin northward, and it was doing this at 5 km intervals.
On a particularly busy bit of road a station wagon pulled over, and the occupant started asking us what we were up to. Coleman is one of those infectiously friendly people who you meet in the middle of nowhere and end up talking with for hours. He was surprised at our first answer and had plenty of follow up questions. "Why" - was one of those questions that really kept you going. Sometimes you just feel as if something is a good idea. Not really sure why. I was mesmerised by the dashboard lights in his big old car. It was probably a Holden from memory, one of those dashes that are lit from the front, lights set in the top of the dash pointing toward the display. Nothing to glow or glare, everything a reflected evening kind of colour. I could sit in a car like that and travel away a whole lifetime of nights, listening to talkback radio, country and western shows, maybe the Goons at three in the morning.
Somehow we ended up with the car right in the middle of the road, ready to cross the train line, and us standing by the driver's door, still talking away, cars and trucks like waves of road motion breaking all around us. Seemed a little dangerous. "S'okay" says Coleman. "My Father is taking good care of me". And I remembered being a kid and going home to Eltham in an old Holden or maybe a Zephyr, nighttime radio and duskylit dash, like a grainy half lit photo. Humming along, drifting in and out of sleep with grownups talking and God taking care of me. Hoo boy then Coleman was gone and I was hoping they'd never take those cars off the road.
Finally Levin appears to us. By now we have tried Rich's patience pretty well, as the phrase "How much further Rich, no really this time" is mantra'd round and round, with voices that are becoming more and more gravelled. "Bout a km down this street" he says to us. Funny boy that one. About 100 metres along the street he turns up a driveway and leads us into the house. Har de har we say, enjoying the joke more than perhaps we should. I lie at the bottom of the stairs with feet pointed uphill. Oh lordy. Oh lordy lordy. These shoes are soooo cheap.
All washed and clean for a few days, we sit in the sun drinking Richard's dad's finest kind homebrew, and I find a big fat copy of Shakespeare's works. Always meant to read about the island and the storm and the quietened crazy people, the mulling and musing that becomes the end of a writer's career, and now was the opportunity. And the laughs were belly laughs as ever, with drunks sloshing through the swamp just damn sure they put that booze somewhere, but Prospero maybe only turns the corners of his mouth at it, he has seen all this ridiculous climbing too many times before. Richard disappeared downtown and returned with two photocopies of the play. Soon we would be separated, so now we had a copy apiece to read and rehearse before we met again in Auckland. We could perform it at the top. We also go into town to buy shoes. Rich springs for a lovely new pair of shoes that would last me in relative comfort for the rest of the trip. He also hands over a pair of socks, a blessed gift from some people who found him alone in Australia at Christmas time. There are people out there everywhere, who live to shower strangers with relief, with gifts and with friendship. Wherever we walked it seemed that these people were never too far away. Homes everywhere. Eating our packed lunch at a rest area on the way to Shannon we are visited by a big white towtruck. Behind the wheel is Coleman, telling us to drop by at his place on our way through. A few hours later we arrive in town and find him under a car in the backyard. He takes us inside, puts the jug on and introduces us to his family. We sat around the table, Coleman, brothers, cousins and mother until late at night. A guitar appears and some bread. Te Omaki, Coleman's mother says she doesn't often have Pakeha visitors at her place. Suddenly it dawns on me. After studying the language, writing essays on Marae protocol and treaty interpretations, and Lord knows what else, I have never spent this much time in a Maori household myself. Funny how a passing grade can fool you into thinking you know about something. I am reminded of a time when I was first learning the language and met a Pakeha man nearly three times my age who scoffed at it. "You'll learn enough to think you know it" he said. "And that's not learning it at all." Later I began to get the point. You start off by saying whenua means land.
And you end up wondering what the word land ever meant. Words themselves are like people; they have lives and garments of their own. When those lives are so different, words can become convenient and nasty traps.
At about 1 am it was time to hit the sack. Jack, Patrick, and the team spread ourselves around the lounge and dozed off. Next morning we were given a tour of Shannon by Coleman and Patrick. We went out to the marae in the morning, then to an orchard to pick puha. A couple more stops and we were back at the house having a last cuppa for the road. I was looking at a translation on the wall, from John's gospel. "I am the way, the truth and the light". I was looking through it for words I recognised and saw that the word for "way" in this translation was "huarahi". In MAOR102 at the university 5 years before, I memorised this as the word for "road". It was marvellous if you could think that there was some track to it at all - that you could create some kind of songline that hung together, one that cured ills, tied ends, that might resolve something, and one that would plot a vague and wandering story. At the gate Te Omaki looked concerned. "I hope you find what you are looking for". At this rate, perhaps we may. Goodbye folks. Bless you heaps.
Long narrow empty roads led the back way to Palmerston North. Rich, having neglected an infected leg earlier in the piece, was beginning to fall behind. By the time we got to a main road it was already dark. In the remaining ten or so kilometres we were amazed to receive eight offers of a lift into town. We were prepared to believe the saying that the South is friendlier than the North, having been received so well on the way to Picton. But now we figured that the North was just as good. Three people carrying packs, on the wrong side of the road at night with their thumbs under their packstraps do not normally make good lift scoring material, as any hitchhiker will know.
Meanwhile Ferdinand has somehow become lost in Wellington again. Thursday night and he is in a pub discussing the fall of language into chaos, watching silly clicky poets queuing to display their wordplay wares. Here is his own attempt, an ode in 103 parts, called "Route 66 revisited" :
Goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish goldfish.
That, of course, is a depiction of life in all its chaos and energy, all its desperation and order. Didn't you see the way the 8th fish and the 43 looked at each other? Shhhhh you fools... no!....they are in love, yes love, now both have sunk back to their respective positions (as they see them) in the whole loveless scheme of things. See how brutal the world is? Fish 8 and fish 43 - see how they avoid looking at each other now - see how the artist must show the surface of this relationship - the surface yes where it is the most painful, the most pointless, the most brave, the least obvious. Pray for these two now that they may find a way to save themselves, that they may, in their brief lifetimes achieve the peace of number 26, the acceptance of number 87. And these are only four of the goldfish! There is far more in that poem than can be imagined in anyone's philosophy. Next time you cross the road cast an eye north by northeast as well, and see (just for a glimpse) the joy and horror that beats the surface of every scale, every wrapper, every shoelace. And sometimes, in your lazy mood, shut off the screen and see the rest of the world come to life. And in the moments before you go mad return to brassy tacks comfort yourself in the thought that there is always more in this small world, there are always tangents or these ever decreasing circles and there is ever, ever a portion of freedom.
And walk some more we did till the big flat town was all around us. Across the square at night and out towards the hospital, laughing and joking along the street, feeling as if we've stepped inside already. When we do arrive we find Gabe waiting and discover that John is somewhere on the outskirts of town, with a car full of fish and chips, trying to find us. Eventually he returns, we pick at the cold dinner and laugh some more. Made it. To another place.
An urban laboratory is conducting experiments around a billiards table. The balls are allowed to become microcosms: they are thrown into each other where they lay so close for so long that sometimes they begin to finally understand how another can have a kind of gravity very like their own. Then, completely without warning they begin rolling away again, sometimes colliding violently into others, sometimes seeking out remote unoccupied areas of the table to brood for the remainder of the exercise.
The scientists, with matchboxes rolled into the sleeves of their white T shirts, are trying to determine whether this really matters, and when they decide that it does they note isolated incidents and plot them on graphs; amounts against energies expended. They are bemused at the results which they have so far refused to publish. This refusal seems to be due to the observation that the less it matters to anyone, the longer the balls manage to keep rolling. They also form circles of their own design, like little waggon trains, and they take up strangely inspired postures.
The newsboy, who spends all of his free time in the pool hall, has coined this transcendence of Newton's laws "moving in tongues". Soon, he tells his family, the scientists in white T shirts with their matchboxes and graphs will all be gone. The set of experiments will all be over and the balls will be left to assume easy revolving holding patterns over metres of green felt and finest Italian slate.
The diary at this time was beginning to express some serious doubts about the point of the whole exercise. Oh woe is me, it would say, this campaign to live an extraordinary life is beginning to get boring. It is a selfish, pointless way of life. It is hard to describe the continual desire to walk, other than to say that a country, even one like New Zealand is a Very Big Thing, and that, end to end is a Very Long Way, so that if one were to begin walking from one end, in the direction of the other, it would be enough to keep one Quite Busy for a Good Deal of Time. Many years ago, while playing pool alone in the basement of a big house in New Plymouth I began to think that maybe there is a form or shape in the way people go about making Extraordinary Things happen. And that making Extraordinary Things happen for me would be simple once I latched on to the universal Way of going about it. This Way itself, I figured, as absurdly difficult shots rolled into the pockets around the edges of the table, nearly always comes as a surprise; and as easy shots bounced irritably away from the corners I realised that is was also very elusive.
You start the game half heartedly, all the time your attention is elsewhere - you have created a distraction which doesn't hold all of your attention either, you have filled all senses, set mind and motor in motion, for no particular reason. Torn between the two points of interest your attention hovers briefly then disappears. While attending to nothing, wishing to achieve nothing, you step back and watch yourself perform:
(Prosper takes the stage:) I may wish, as theatre goers sometimes do, that I could be an actor and appear on this stage, just as before me, on another berg of reality an author wrote my words, wishing that he too could be an author. So on and on, and as the world becomes more and more beautiful, more and more does it slip between our fingers, and then our eyes witness marvels. Suddenly we become inattentive, we have seen something sparkle, and when we see that sparkle we begin to want and want and want. Attention, once levitated descends with a realistic crash: once again laws are respected; probability, behaviourism, gravity. To be an audience you need to be the last unransomable thing: to the actor the audience must not seem to exist. To the actor the self must also become part of the audience. And if we were not watching, like a tree falling lonesomely in a forest, the world would and does unfold, like an actor joyfully creating the ultimate performance safe in the knowledge that the audience was never really there. We are all audience, and we are all nothing, and we have let the show begin.....
Its got something to do with things that happen out of the corner of your eye, puzzles that solve themselves when you put them in a box and give them a shake. But I have better things to do now than talk about the Big Secret now (all revealed, incidentally, when lines and circles become the same thing). No, I wish to return to the endless cycles of questions like: Once you discover that you can be anything, what path do you take? What is the best cause to save the world from? What names do institutions have for those who give in before they have started? Are the fits of panic at 2 am more closely associated with madness or with sanity?
Richard has developed a respectable pot belly from recent eating binges. It should keep him going until we are reunited in Auckland. Don't forget to practise your lines now. And off he goes to Napier. Ruth and I are going to New Plymouth.
We spend a night in Sanson, then one in Turakina. Then on the way to Wanganui a car pulls over and my father and grandmother begin talking with us. There they are, right there standing on the road. We try to be tricky and provide the lunch for all of us but they have an impressive array of provisions all assembled on the kitchen bench in New Plymouth that morning. We sit in the back seat watching the rain. They reappear later that night, as we are walking north from Wanganui and it is about to get dark. This car, two hours from home is full of bits and pieces that were only a few hours ago, somewhere in the New Plymouth house. That house will be 4 days walk away by teatime. Weird that. How cars get around so fast. Another night spent in the porch of a church hall - cosy little places. And for the hundredth time I drop off to sleep thinking "there really is something about sleeping out like this. I must tell someone about it. Must keep it in mind. Not forget." Waverly to Manutahi. The roads have become narrow and lined with hedges. The road is straighter than before and the mountain appeared a day ago: it is getting bigger and bigger until soon we will cross the lines that encircle it and become ourselves a part of the circuitous Taranaki traffic. Because we have been looking at the mountain it is now about to rain. We start to look around at all the neat little red haybarns and driveways. Jenny came down the driveway we turned down and met us halfway. "Sorry" she says, "I don't have beds for you but you can sleep in the shed if you like". We follow in amazement around the house and into the kitchen. Soon we are eating huge plates of stew and vegetables and we talk about Taranaki, about jobs about Hawera, the mountain, and walking. After dark we head outside and make our way to the shed. It is neatly packed with small bales that go most of the way to the roof. We lie in our bags, a few feet from the top, and drift off to sleep as water hammers the iron above.
Then it was Hawera in the morning, and we were cold and looking to splash out reckless on something warm for breakfast. Before we left town Ruth made some phone calls and I walked in and out of King Edward park, as if trying the coolish surface of a few old memories but really too keen to get away. The phone clicked for the last time. We talked about the news, about all sorts of news and chatter, and I thought about how if I was a carver I'd hew a big piece of wood into a figure kinda crouched, with a long face and big eyes, gazing into the waters. And I'd set it on the banks of the Clutha, just upstream from the Roxburgh bridge, where there's the bend and the water eddies around like it too likes to think about its options before gravity hauls it helpless away. And if I did that figure would still be there now, watching, waiting, for nothing, but waiting anyway. Funny though, that this news should come just then, as at last the clouds part from around the mountain and there it is, like an old shoe. I look across to Ruth and turn my arm in a slow arc: "we're going around it sort of like this.....". How would it be to grow up without a reference point like that big ol' mountain.
On a dirt floor, with weeds and paper pushed to the walls, with the usual Taranaki drizzle - and just as you're wandering between wake and sleep and the trains go by, not passengers but big freights throwing lights through every crack and shaking the shed for nearly a minute. South Inglewood has half a dozen of these little sheds, spaced evenly along the line, more relics of some grand age of rail.
Tomorrow we will arrive at another destination, stopover, place to display sore feet and drink coffees on the porch.
Meanwhile on Dixon street Ferdinand is caught up on the manufacture of a story, and he begins to tell himself that actually, everybody is busy making up stories - whenever something inexplicable and disturbing happens you've got to come up with some kind of explanation - so why not sit down and write a story? Not saying, of course, that there are two sides to every story, but that there is a story for every side - if you make it to the point where you're saying this every argument becomes doomed and comfort is a train passing your shed at three in the morning.
CIVILISATION - All development of human intelligence so far has led to the congregating of numbers of people in a comparatively small area for the purpose of mutual service
Civilisation - we come here and found (or decided) that language is a magical, spiritual medium - perhaps separating people from animals, but maybe not - stepping across the Earth, balancing, cooking up words, surprised time and time again by what they are able to do. And Prospero, was he really master of all that action? or was he alone on the island, shivering in the breezes, making up stories for himself to laugh over, to look for comfort in. And those computers, a screen, printer and keyboard - nothing else connecting - how can you say they really do that much, all they do is talk, talk talk to themselves.......
I decide to visit a podiatrist: he shows me the feet of a child and how ones forefoot turns to reach the ground, and I recall hearing that foot problems come to those who are afraid of the future; my forefoot, he points out, has still not come to reach the earth as it should; the ankles twist under the weight, and the bigs toes have begun to turn away from each other. All through the South Island I had pictured the ankles in my mind: as I saw them they were made of fibreglass. The podiatrist says "arthritis". Sadly I think of failed attempts along the great wall of China, across the Nullabor desert, return trips to Bluff. I suddenly think of my feet failing me. I think of not being able to leave, when suddenly you feel as if you really need to.
You fail only when you let death creep in and take over a part of your life that should be alive. Death don't come knocking at the door. Its there in the morning when you wake up. (Bob Dylan)
There was a woman who dreamed of this time of vivid motionless, high above the Mt Victoria tunnel. Two cars were married below, a shock of confusion and bodily impact. They had given birth to an incident. Police cars began to weave through the city, an ambulance was despatched, and, of course, there was a lot of blood. The time had not yet come for her to go. It would be like this, she believed, seeing a light beside her as it began to move away. I was wearing my best dress and I finally felt really good. I'd finally said it, it was out of my mind and he could add it to the list of his problems for all I cared. Should have said months ago. But that time is not now. She woke near Aureliano. I have so many things to recall for you, she said. Aureliano was heating a kettle of water, glad at last for the company, and intrigued by her arrival. Go on, he said. Go on.
I was tossing and turning in a bed in Warkworth, drifting in and out of sleep. At one stage I entered a dream: we were walking at night, all three of us, when suddenly Ruth was hit by a car. That was all. She lay by the roadside, dead as a post, and there we were, no idea what was happening next.
Meanwhile Ruth was in the lounge reading Mills and Boon, Rich was there too, talking with Ruth's aunt and cousins; the only one who didn't pick up the bug we contracted in Kaukapakapa.
Warkworth: we were the reunited team by now, wandering through the town, playing at rivercrossing, sitting in the secondhand bookshop reading magazines, stocking up for the road, watching kids massacre each other in the schoolground. I'll settle down with some paper when this is through, I was thinking. Get a job in New Plymouth, walk on the beach, and try working all this out. I'll set up a goldsmith shed and turn those fishes. They'll be saved from time, from all the washing we have done of each other. They will survive, these little fish, they'll be salmon, killing themselves to swim upstream, living on fortune cookies, sleeping in pillow books.
(Prospero is chalking triangles on the floor and surrounding himself with candles. Caliban - he's found a new language but discovers that its only good for cursing. Ferdinand and Miranda are playing at chopping firewood; creeping through the house and whispering about marriage. Everyone seems to think that Ariel should be freed now, but Prospero is holding off - "not yet, he snaps, not quite yet". There are still a few fates to deliver. Including his own. Then they'll all be away from there, the spells reduced to babble, and every third thought his grave.)
And we were in Kaukapakapa, still walking north up Maui's fishing boat, and we fight among ourselves, not really believing the high seas will do us any harm. Men are still being groomed for great missions, or to become warriors but none can see where the battles are: all starting to suspect that their strong right arms and the Midas touches can only bring loneliness and disapproval. So they look to trinkets and puzzles: games and works with the inanimate and insentient; off they go, in pursuit of some Way that will enable them to wander off alone to spin on their own axis, spinning as warmly, as well occupied as possible.
Its time to give up control now, time for Prospero to drown the book, hang up the cape. The control thing is an illusion in itself; as a gardener will tell you, you don't actually make anything grow, you can only kill its competition. He can't perform magic without imprisoning spirits like Ariel, harnessing animals like Caliban, and all his missions are bound to leave him alone in the end. The sea washes away his silly dukedom, leaving only a passionate belief in the arranging of words: the spell will fall on your tongue and you will awake again in Ferdinand's body. Till then Caliban my friend, you must eat like a dog and drink your milk quickly before it sours.
Up on the ninth floor the offices are filled with language gods - likewise imprisoned in trees of a sort I suppose. The monsters, the beasts, the engines, waves and oceans of
commerce outside run on, while these gods control, like divine mechanics. I heard a story of one of these people: he would sit for three days at his desk rubbing his knees, then on the fourth would pour word after word into the gullet of the terminal, and, as if by magic, the beast would roll in its sleep, and from beneath it lay another silvered key, or golden fish: tablets of secrets would be released. And they had destinations too, to which they would fly on electric wings of quartz. There is a way, we figure, that we can use to gain the same powers - not to rule the world, mind, not to buy yachts or lovers, but just to get us some time, to stop the machine from claiming us just yet. Unlike the river, the machines seem to say "there is only time, and most of it is already gone". The continual message seems to be "things are difficult now, things are slow and graft: you can feel every soggy step of the way - but if you were to stop, if you fall by the wayside and keep the words playing in your mind, the spell would fall, the words would land and the machine, whether it be a heart, a pyramid or a computer, will do as you wish, will lift and transport you beyond all of this - and you won't feel a thing, except free. And your time will be returned. And your time will gain interest."
But time wasn't a thing I planned for on the nether side of leavetake. No sirree - the thing was intended to pluck me off the road and put me somewhere new, somewhere I could live out my days without thinking again. It was gonna put everything in place, establish peace even - introduce surety and nothing else would need doing, nothing awaiting my vigil attention. I could become the ghost that slipped unhindered through the maze of assets and anxieties. I could lie down, lie right down and leave it all be. Done me bit. Done. Just let things happen now, any things. Every third thought a well deserved rest and powers gone; every land discovered, every adventure foretold.
Ferdinand back to Dixon street. It must be something about these hills I suppose. Walking through the street you can still feel Maui's brothers fighting and chopping at the land, and the Wellingtonians live in the midst of it all - unable to slow down, unable to rest because the hills still make their demands, saying make hard use of your time, so few the hours outside your office in which to exercise, and train, throw yourself upon the hills pick yourself up from the bays. And its this town, not the people who are uptight - earthquake may come yet that will liquefy Lambton Quay and send it to the sea, but the Wellingtonian perches on the hillside and says, "yup, maybe that time too will come. But we will live here. We like to live here...."
To those who think they can live all their lives in one go. That saying goodbye should never (under any circumstances) take longer than saying hello did. Every coupla pages in this book is a new vigil, another time of sneaking down the hallway, lighting candles, putting the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack on the turntable, looking at the script, the asylum at Arles, the empty bed, and beginning to scribble around that place where people ought to be. Maybe for a magic spell that can be cast over lips that have touched, foreheads that have pressed. Could be Prosper, could be Caliban; either way every thought ends up asking for another little gold fish, and every third is another step nearer home, and nearer the long, long beach, Te Paki, Reinga.
Now it is afterwards, in the offices of Wellington, and you keep a barge's pole from the weather - the elements that can throw ashes and dust so high and low, away from passion, tears and grating throats, heavy dews and chill winds. And, most of all, sunny roadsides and grassy verges: 10am sunbursts that glow on olive skins and faded cotton; where you hear a voice saying: "morning sun is the most beneficial, the best type of sunlight to spend time in. I feel so good when I sit in this morning sun". And from this Wellington cave I get a shot across the front room at Chester street, Christchurch, a sudden burst of excitement at a new visitor: there's coffee on the stove and maybe a kiss or two.
I thought of that five months as lasting forever, life carrying on and on regardless. I thought a thousand miles was far enough to be endless, and set out thinking that after you've been through every mile there is to walk through, why you could see for sure there is nothing under the sun to do, nothing more to travel from or to. But really, there's nothing this side of our arrival at Reinga: a wander in mirrored halls; games of words that its easier not to stop, nothing. Used to love changing my mind, leaving places, being in transit, thinking of that great jazz note, the hidden oracle, the mystery destination where things could finally begin. Now I can look around at the empty bed, the sleeping bag and shoes, these nothing books, that nothing, nothing writing, the candles burning out, and live again the sweet dream of leavetaking.
Sitting around a table in the northeast with a guy called Brent. Al Green on the stereo, pumping through the house, people in the kitchen, the three of us looking around a little bewildered; the way you get when you've just taken your pack off for the day. We took out the map to show him the red felt line from Wellington: it fell under Brent's eye and he looked round and round that big island at places he'd been in through and on. And suddenly it seemed that the three of us had been simply following a long corridor: rooms to the left and rooms to the right passed by unseen. Sure enough you could poke a stick at but there's more that a few million acres can do for you - spoilt and unspoilt, fermenting and rotting, growing and dying, and oh ye, so hungry for the whole world, can you bear to think how small you presently are? Watching it all get tilled and eaten, you can't but stop to worry where the spirits will have left to go - life carries on in spite of, generally, methinking again, looking on what we have created, not seeing that it is all just the survivors of our rampages. Please to step
Put thy sword up traitor, Who mak'st a show, but dar'st not strike, thy conscience is so possessed with guilt! (turn, stomp and stomp...) Come from thy ward! For I can here disarm thee with this stick, And make thy weapon drop. (Turn to Rich and repeat while waving hands in the air for emphasis).
A mile later we stopped at a farmhouse to get some water - and discovered that we were smack in the very footsteps of the great New Zealand walker A H Reed! The skinny hollow faced hat waving man whom I discovered in a Wellington bookshop only six years before. What an idea! I thought. Yes you could do that. A H Reed, non smoking, non drinking God worshipping sunset loving rapt and walking man. Once he challenged anyone 20 years his junior to a competition of walking, but at that time I think there were no 60 year old takers. Living passionately on lines, every bodily molecule fallen in love with perambulating and jumbling his way through life and road. Came to this house, he did, where we were seated with tea and bikkies. He visited the local school, and the father here carried his bag for him awhile. He was heading south, and, no doubt, reminding God to look out for all the lovely people he'd bumped into on his way.
And while we walked out the sun was getting stuck into the horizon pretty much as in A H's time - some scenes that, thank the Lord, can be relied on - just to say it happened, and is happening, and will continue to.....
So this is Coopers beach, a night when we arrive someplace where we are actually expected. We can scratch our heads and drink coffee on the carpet, talking over the nature of our packs and how to execute the next couple of days. Stretching on the floor in our sleeping bags, writing, reading and looking at the ceiling, wondering, wondering and wondering - only three days of walking left. Ruth's family extends this far north. Her uncle retired from the Antarctic to live here. Her aunt has come from Warkworth. We have one last wash, muse over problems like the lack of drinking water along ninety mile beach, decide to reduce our gear into two backs and make this last bit a run for home. Next morning we step out the door and walk our last bit of real road - we have begun to feel as vulnerable as possums lately, blinded at nighttime by oncoming traffic, stumbling in unseen ditches and straying dazedly toward the centre. We liked to get off these roads, going through sheep stations, along tracks, up beaches, but it is roads that you really begin to love - roads with people on them, shops and houses, roads that divide plains and hillsides, roads that graciously pass you through every bit of stuff, crossing your rivers, burrowing your mountainsides, lie dry and hard in the sun, straight and shining and smooth. Roads that beat and hum under tyres, roads that lead the way without doubt or uncertainty. Roads being the last great clear cut things left in a world that keeps changing the rules. At nighttime, maybe between 9 and 10, we were wandering the street of Awanui. The last town in the country - and the end of highway one! Highway one, boyoboy the one great line that could draw the whole country together like a magnet. And the line ended here. Highway one gives up the ghost and the ghost hits the beach. Next morning we were standing in the sand.
And you build some kind of thought around you - about coming home and someone being there - some one who was expecting you. Stepping through the night time streets with tumbling colonial houses and you're tired of thinking but someone is there - not someone who is part of the house because houses change, flats change, but someone who would move too -someone who would be in the next place as well. And your senses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 don't pick it up but your head is thinking of the person who is by now reading a book, watching TV, expecting you'll be dropping by before long. And you will go to each other.
There were people called Solipsists. Folks who held the single terrifying thought that all you know f'sure is that you yourself exist: everything else changes and comes and goes and lives and dies - all you can count on is that you are alone in the end; stomping up the Terrace - there may be someone else there, someone at home but if you can't be sure on it, you can't be sure on it, and the walking tires you just a little more.....
Some people go through there whole lives, it seems to me, always finding that person there, forever hearing the footsteps on the path, the opening of the door - glad to be back, glad to step out of the singular, to rest into union. Sometime tho, other people get that shock (and horribly) to find that it may not be that way always - death can separate you from a person but, if your luck is really out, you may be parted instead by fear. And A.H.'s creed from the road returns to your mind:
With supreme confidence I believe in the reunion of loving hearts in the hereafter.
"Death brings us again to our friends", so sez Longfellow. And his gravestone: "Home is the sailor, home from the sea". And the hunter whose name is Bill.
And weren't we ever the best of friends sez Dickens. And y get yourself 8 zillion things to say, 8 zillion, that just sort of stacked up by themselves, 8 zillion that could have sailed the ether. And this beach goes another 70 kilometres, where the souls of the recently departed probably do still skim sand and tide on there final journey north.
A rule for everything - letting go, the art of leavetaking, releasing, a hold on an opponent, a blanket of security, a choking idea. The road to Mishnory, it says in LeGuin's book, if you turn your back and walk away, well, you are still on the Mishnory road, aren't you? I want to learn how to leave the trail, to learn letting go, to learn was to practise these moves every day. Letting go, walking and not finding the spell, but learning to leave without the book - not becoming ether - not becoming a disturbance in the air, but instead a real pair of feet, real intake of air, real words on real paper, let the wind and rain do what it may. It must have made more sense to be a Maori carver in the days before my ancestors, when the wearing down, weathering and eventual demise of your art is foreseeable, expected, part of the whole reality of life, but for the printed word it would take an Apocalypse, for the press, the library, the floppy and hard disk, it would take a cold, cold winter to remove them all forever.
And that ether, it was invented by scientists who need a medium to belive in, something that should really exist to carry light waves (or are they particles) is it the same medium that we travel through in our creations, in our visitations, in our memories. No memory has stuck quite like that of walking up 90 mile beach - the last two days it was and we carried all our own water at the time. It was winter now and the wind well it could just blow and blow. I tried cutting my extra thick jandals to resemble the orthotics given to me by the podiatrist in New Plymouth. They ended up looking pretty strange and being unusable.
Anyhow it was at some point on this beach that the notion first appeared: about the cross wind that never gave us peace, that cross wind suddenly turning in to a tail and us Sun set on the beach and we kept walking, with wind whipping round, ears full of tide and sand, yes and just another breathtaking sunset - just nearly the last and rhythm of waves and feet go together on the wide hard beach to make it easier. But we have as ever, been walking for a long long time. What was it about those sunsets! One after another, from sitting outside the pub in Karamea only the year before thinking that dusk was never that way in town - somehow you miss it. Out in the country - well its like the sky rolling over and giving up - and your insides filled with sadness and hope and you take it on for yourself, the job of keeping the land warm, keeping an eye on things - sorta looking out for it all, and just like in Orlando you can see that life carries within it, in every day, the seeds of a hundred deaths - just to get used to the idea of finishing up, just to get you used to the idea of grabbing it all and living for all you're worth. And you creeping through this world which, real though it is, takes on a dreamlike quality and you just might get lonely, lonely waiting to find someone who can share it all. Sneaking round Cuba street at midnight, imagining when the sex shop was a haberdashery, and bored prewar ladies passed through the same doors looking for something to stir up a sense of wonder please, while their husbands boldly get this land organised yes they do, or when you could sail a boat right up to the Basin Reserve, in the summer before the earthquake, and oh its gonna be a pretty wee harbour with lots of little sailboats but now they all windsurf but that part of the harbour has gone, thrown up in some great subterranean restlessness that is so crazily unexpected. Car lots and taxi stands, coffee shops and traffic islands, and pedestrians seeming to say - 'well its not the best of all worlds, just the most likely'
And if you come near giving up on someone who ought to be dear, slip yourself into the DeLux coffee shop and I'll tell you, striking the table gently, its hard to keep hope when there is nothing else for you to do - its hard to keep the faith and to let go as well, but please try, please will you save a thread of hope, it won't need to be much to keep at bay the despair and disillusion of no hope. Caliban and Sebastian - maybe they were both in Prospero's head, the sad ole man who has decided now to do nothing forever - and hope only for his children, and to listen patiently for a scythe tapping on the door.
- This is your struggle. For years now you have lived a half life, an existence torn between fantasy and reality. Between faith without words and word without faith.
- These are the letters - the ones that never made it. These are the ones that you have carried thus far. Why should anyone work so hard to carry something that does not exist. Why put yourself through such pain, this you have been wondering.
Ferdinand looked at the letters and suddenly felt as if he had read them all.
- So they don't exist?
- Well.... actually. He began to smile. They do exist. He walks down the beach and disappears under the water.
Aureliano finishes his last touch; the alteration of history, the fictional process, the manufacture of fish.
In India the postcard changes hands. A line is added into the space that remains. Ferdinand dreams of China. Everyone has left the office. A stamp is affixed to the postcard. The last line is in place. It reads:
Don't believe a word of it.