Any long walk undertaken in solitude becomes a pilgrimage, whether or not you intended it to be one.
That which you seek, or do not seek, cannot be named.
Labels are like boxes – they acquire packaging and prejudice, tinsel and hypocrisy,
and immediately sound like self-help columns.
So shush – no names
No gurus or manuals – just go

There will be no ceremony except the sensible packing of jacket, raincoat, hat, mittens, walking pole and food.
No anointing of oil – save careful application of sunscreen.
No hymns or chants are necessary, although you may find yourself whistling old Beatles songs under your breath as you puff along.

And you certainly won’t need holy water because the wild, rain-delivered kind is everywhere
River, tarn, bog, drindle, running clear and cool under the stones wherever you walk.
No incense, unless you count the southerly gusts carrying snow flurries in lilting tumbles.
No miracles can be expected – only rounded rocks like worn bones
or sharp treacherous shards like old swords

Place your feet securely – there is no forgiveness for carelessness.
Wholly arbitrary, this land has no divine commandments
You and the mountain abide only and utterly, by the laws of physics.
There is innocence in this
There is no need to try – in fact it’s probably better not to
what is your aim anyway?
remember – no names
Simply plodding along in a beautiful place for long enough, is sufficient.

Nonetheless softly, like a change in the weather
something like grace steals in, circles,
and settles into nooks and crevices of your soul –
like the delicate blue harebells,
the mountain hebes
Or the ice-white everlasting daisies that nestle in the cracks between boulder and creek

Something – something of quiet – takes root and flowers for a season
Like a snow-laden spur half-lit and numinous through mist
Dimly perceived, like a wild bird that we must only look at sideways
else it will fly off, frightened

Something that is part of you now, even if it fades
as evanescent things do –
and it will leave behind spores and seeds
The same pathways will always be there
like rivers and tarns
ferns and lichens
glowing coral,  red,  amber,  green
Pilgrim, just go


Mist Stories

Mist in the mountains is beautiful but you can all too easily get lost in it as any who has tramped in the Tararuas will know. Sometimes I think I spend half my life in a different kind of fog. I’m flying blind, popping out every now and then and being surprised, when I finally see clearly, at where I turn out to be this time.

Morning mist demons are puffing up off the swamp
Colluding with moonfire and tendrils of solar flare – the breath of dragons!
Upwelling from valley trees and river, the helicoidal ghosts are seeing off the last shades of dying night.
Lambent coils coolly levitate into evanescent haze and milky hag-lite spills over layered ridges under a seashell dawn.

I watch as I brush my teeth near an alpine tarn
The earth is a great bird with ruffled feathers.
Eddies of rib and muscle wrinkle into the flow of the hills and dreamy folded wings settle over dewy grasslands
Changing as fast as I change my clothes
The cloud turns sullen, lugubrious –
Mist is a story that can send you topsy turvy and chill
It can spin your compass and flummox your bearings
White out
no landmarks
no poles
East might be west or north, south –

Do I wake or sleep? Which way is up?
Fog is a mystery novel with a choice of endings
Schrodinger has lost that damn cat completely this time round
(though I daresay it’s surviving perfectly well…)
And who knows which spur we should take to get to the hut?
When the weather tears open like an old threadbare blanket,
The windrush, inaka and hebe glitter
in orbs of silver and rainbow –
A tiny mountain spider crouches in the centre of it’s beaded windmill web
Is the hillside awash in tears?
or shining with gems beyond price?
It all depends on how warm your jacket is –

Do you like this new world your mist book has opened onto?
Or not?
Have you finished up where you expected to be?

olivines 078

– Photos by Peter Jenkins

The Old Forest

Sunlight glows under mist on primeval forest – a pale dawn gleams on Hauhangatahi
Long lucent ridges lean down like tawny yawning arms,
touched by a scatter of gold dust on tussock and glitter of snow
Brooding clouds crouch in the south
O – that cutting south wind that swirls out of myth and story –

Who are you Hauhangatahi? Unknowable oldest one, with your air of haunted sentience?
You’ve seen it all come along – from charred bits of Taupo eruption
to first people
to puffing steam trains
What do you make of it all?

Your weather is supple as a fish – a spectral fin catches the light and then it’s gone!
The tail pulls in reverberate rain, thrumming like an organ symphony –
timpani and freight trains
the rhythmic folding metre of it!
I hold out my hands, I feel it vibrating in my belly
A lull comes, like a sigh of vast lungs
– dropping deep –

Then it’s all on again,
Humdinger, surf-slosher,
wind-winger, bell-ringer, tree-singer,
tintinnabulating tarn filler –
The marriage of Earth and Sky is somewhat fractious in these parts.

Boggart, you could be – a great, bog-humped lumpen beast unearthing yourself out of the flax swamp
Pulling free from a million knitted eely roots; out of cold black pools and the cradling earth.
A slouching sulky creature with no care for Bethlehem or any human concern
Just biding your time…
Enduring in muddy obdurate fashion, ringed by a forest of henchmen –
Grey-green old wild folk with licheny whiskers
Waiting out the long siege until we all go away and you can recross the line –
back across the railway,
to reconquer what was your own.

I have trespassed over that line occasionally –
Ventured across with my family, when the fit takes us, when we want to go off and be wilderpeople.
If you find yourself in sympathy with this quest, well then
squeeze through a cutty grass door
go on…

Calendar time has no power here,
(all those little squares)
Only the tug of the moon and the tilted earth against the sun.

Soul-wandering wayfarer!
Join us in this murky kingdom of drupes, racemes, panicles and involucres.
From here on in, the map is blank;
Here there be monsters

Mournful eyes peer at us as we pass…
Those trees are passing cryptic notes about us.
The only guide for our passage is the occasional dab of paint mostly worn off
Or a flax blade tied in a loop – the work of hunters.
The strange scrub circle on Hauhangatahi hints at aliens landing, and a suspended cup of cloud confirms this feeling –
Run down, run down as the moon
rises over the edge of the world!
Escape, escape, through the scrub
as the darkness deepens
and the sunset dims on distant Taranaki.

The cozy red tent just fits in a dry clearing at the bushline, circled by pahautea and an earthy stream
Dip the billy carefully if you want clean tea.
As we sit quietly, and push the last twigs into the middle of the fire – shivering a little on our old log,
“Kreeeoo!       Kreeeoo!”
I think that’s kiwi crying, out in the dark…


(Original painting by Nicolette Brodnax)

Bugs in our garden at Mt Ruapehu

Bellbirds echo each other from the swamp across the road where the red red flax heads shoot tall and thick.
Slowing down, I become aware of a low hum of flies, and a drone of bees a tone and a half higher. They love rasberry and hebe.

I’m contained and sheltered in my tree-ish circle among the dandelion shoots which sneak up illegally in the bark.
Sparrows slip in stealthily to slip off with bits of vogels crust.

The ti-tree overhead is alive with flying insects – A brass band! Bagpipes! Tinnitus!

A piece of leaf swings on a single long cobweb. My old eyes see it double.

A sparrow lands on an “ancient ruin” recently created by Nicolette from local pumice. Her fat pottery bird, under the real bird, has cracked in the weather.
This is nice enough to be worth bringing out a cup of tea and a cushion.

A small fly drowns in my tea while I’m eating chocolate.

Sunshine between clouds encourages them all to crescendo.
I shut my eyes and I could be in the eye of a hurricane,
a squeezebox of buzz,
a somnolent chainsaw
translating patterns of buzz.

To my cousin Maria, who likes yellow

(And it really is a spiffing colour…)

Buttercups, lemons and Vegemite jars
Raincoats and Bic pens, garden bin lids, butter –
A maple leaf slapped on a tumble of white
Someone dumped old shelves on Esplanade road
Soggy leaf piles make a perilous coating
on the black stone steps cutting steep down the alleyway –
Collisions of fire and rust; yellow and red

Bite into yellow in pineapple lumps
or slosh it down, tingly in fizzing lemonade –
Juxtapose it with grey for sober banking
or mix with sunshine for nasturtiums and gorse

Bananas and grapefruit, hobbit front doors
Fire hydrants, saffron and those lines on the road –
The grandparents’ car, as cheerful as a bath duck
lets you know where to find it in dark airport carparks
There’s a squirt of it in the dishwater and a dab of it on a penguin –
a flash on a mohua and a dash on a gannet
That myna’s been dipping its beak into the paint again!

From the bright of book spines to the pollen from daisies,
shining, happy yellow trails sparks across our lives –
pricking, poking and erupting
like a feast of fireworks; friendly as a fruit shop.

The Council has Spoken

There are just too many of us. Time to grow up, be civilised and live in apartments.
The city is like Sophie’s bedroom –  we’ve used up all the floor space in cunningly arranged jigsaws.
3D, now, is the only solution –
Wardrobes on the ceiling, houses in the sky.

The birds will teach us – The sparrow that has a home in an old heating vent up Valley Road spares me a moment to give me some pointers.
“After all”, she says, “our kind have been doing this for so long it doesn’t bear thinking about. If you’re considering high rise you could do worse than look at the phoenix palms”

So, on her instructions, off I trot to Horoeka Ave. Sure enough, the wide girthed tree is a veritable condominium for birds.
In the penthouse on the top, pigeons rrrooo coooo –
They wiggle their bottoms, waft gracefully in and out, swap gossip and groom themselves like ladies in a Spanish hairdressers.
Extended families of sparrows have occupied the cheaper units further down the trunk.
Grey stubs of fallen branches make perfect perches and cosy nesting holes.
Cousins squabble and dads fly in with useful twigs from Bunnings.

Rumour has it that kingfishers also find old phoenixes commodious, but I didn’t see any. Competition is fierce in the big smoke and maybe the sparrows won.

For myself, I think I’ll keep my feet on the ground – or escape like those kingfishers – unless I can really live in a tree…