"the clouds should know me by now"


   Nov. & Dec. 2002 — text by Austin Pick

The drop drips at last, and the continuation of this wild screenplay adaptation alights on a symmetry of keys, fattening and giving way in a precipitation of characters crinkling thru a labyrinth of phone wires, an encrypted ensemble of pixels aligned shining on glassy orbs set blinking in a cinematic rhythm, animated still-frames humming the highline of another dream come bubbling, faceless and set to lights...

The image of the latenite lights of Auckland spread-eagled and fantastic beneath a span of borrowed wings still mesmerizes me all these three long months later, and a beginning so dreamlike of a dream already spun through memory-prisms makes the task of telling seem a little difficult. It has been an incredible summer. I fear that, at best, these chapters will be like handing you a cup of water collected from a monsoon. Though perhaps that is always the case when telling tales of rainmaking...

NEW ZEALAND

The island nation of New Zealand is one of the last places on earth to be inhabited. The native people, the Maori, arrived from the Polynesian islands only 1000 years ago and despite a deep respect and consideration for the natural environment, their impact was severe. An isloated land, New Zealand was a place of birds, and prior to the arrival of humans, the islands were inhabited by only one type of terrestrial mammal: bats. The Maori introduced many destructive exotic species and practices, and still more were later brought by Europeans. New Zealand's environment has now been at least 80% modified, although you'd never suspect as much; today most of the country's ecologically significant lands are large well-protected areas of relatively pristine wilderness.   

In obvious contrast to Australia's ancient dustbowl expanses, New Zealand is, geologically speaking, very very young. And while only about as large as Colorado, NZ is a mosaic of dynamic and rugged landscapes pockmarked with active volcanoes and teeming with varieties of life not found anywhere else on earth. NZ's unique diversity and dramatic natural beauty make it a very special place for adventure traveling and, as you've probably seen, epic film-making...

If it weren't for the weather, New Zealand would easily be Paradise, a veritable Garden of Eden. New Zealand lies southeast of Australia in the latitudes called the Roaring Forties, infamous for violent, unpredictable weather. Weather Forecasting in NZ is about as accurate as the throaty prophecies of a dirt-mall fortune teller. Fittingly the Maori know New Zealand as Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud...

Head in the clouds, I immersed myself in New Zealand's landscapes for about six weeks, traveling extensively and sleeping somewhere different almost every night. Even so, my stay wasn't nearly long enough. Despite its size NZ is a land of overwhelming diversity —so much!— and because travel is almost certainly complicated by the incorrigible weather, travelers have to accept that it's impossible to "see it all" and be glad for whatever experiences are open to them. True of life, I suppose; give up agendas and take it as it comes, allowing the universe conspire as it will...

I decided to hook up on a bus pass with an outfit called Stray Travel — basically a "jump on, jump off" bus circuit for travelers, jump off the bus anywhere along the route, stay as long as you like, then jump back on and cruise down the way. I also hitched around and caught rides here and there — NZ is a wonderfully friendly and cruisy place, and I've learned since that there are better ways to travel, depending on what you're into. (For example, I met several people who found it easier and more affordable to simply buy a cheap used car.) Anyways Stray is a pretty good outfit because all the folks on the circuit are young travelers, so it's an easy way to connect with other wanderers.

In this way I ended up exploring NZ with folks from about a dozen different countries —mostly Europeans and Israelis— making many interesting friends and traveling with some for days at time. Beginning in Auckland I zigzagged back and forth down the North Island thru Wellington, and then onto the South Island, where I invested most of my time. The South Island, where most of The Lord of the Rings was filmed, is famous for its dramatic and breathtaking landscapes, but the North Island, where I traveled for my first two weeks, is not to be overlooked...

NORTH ISLAND

One the first places I explored was Waitomo, famous for its amazing caves, where I went "blackwater rafting" thru a cave on an inner tube, a stunning experience. Deep in the cave an enormous cavern widens and the underground river slows, becoming a tranquil, invisibly black stream snaking its way beneath a vaulted ceiling arching impossibly far above. We all laid in our tubes, linked legs, extinguished our headlamps, and floated noiselessly through the silent earth, millions of glowworms shining in blue-neon homage to the universe on the ceiling far above, drawing our weightless floating bodies into an ethereal calm, adrift in the cosmos of the earth's measureless belly...

And drifting thru the majestic old forests of the Coromandel Peninsula, cruising through the sleepy east-coast hamlet of Hahei, found myself along some of NZ's most spectacular beaches, Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach... Much of the North Island is volcanically active, and at Hot Water Beach the sands lie atop a series of volcanic springs. Arriving at dawn when the tide is right, we dug ourselves a pit in the sand, creating a little wall and a canal so ocean water could find its way in. The pit, as we dug, filled with HOT spring water that mixed with the reaching fingers of the tide until the temperature was just about right, an All Natural Jacuzzi on the beach, reclining just in time for sunrise rising over the shores of this amazing island at the end of the world...

An amazing island indeed bubbling cauldronlike from within, visit Rotorua smelling slightly of sulfur, gaze into volcanic geysers, craters, vast lakes of boiling mud and an old Maori Village built along the smoky shores of a volcanic river, where they ingenuously utilize the steaming geysers to cook their food and heat their homes and show their tourists a fascinating thing or two...

And down in Taupo, rather above Taupo, one of the best places I reckon to leap from an aircraft out above the lake framed by snow-capped volcanoes in the distance everything in the distance everywhere green and dreamy languid then closer closer closer am I moving or is the earth falling into me in a rush of sound which is the dull roar of my heart beating in my throoooat .....((( ! )))..... And there's no other way to frame it really because we have no perceptual reference for the experience, something totally NEW, sensations unintended, an accident of possibility. SurrRreel. Humans brains weren't built for flying, and yet somehow... 12,000 feet = 45 seconds of freefall or a minor eternity whichever easier to comprehend easily neither really and anyways I have watched birds free-wheeling in the blue blue sky gliding like clouds and avatars and heavens and heavens and Now I have an idea at least an inkling of what that feels like...  

The volcanoes I saw looming closer as I tumbled vertically now approach on the horizontal axis, or at least that's the rumour as we near the Tongariro National Park, where all is shrouded in mist and cloud... I'd been planning to jump off the bus and do some tramping in the wilderness but the weather is gloomy and indecisive — and also I have very little packable food with me, and there is only one tiny general store in this little skiing village... But in the early morning there's a breif break of sun revealing a slender side of suggestive mountain, and I get that feeling —GO!— so I situate my slim pack for a few days hiking and slip off into the cloud, can't see more than a few hundred yards in any direction, landscape a faded suggestion of pastels and textures, not sure where I am exactly... but then as the mists melt and dissipate suddenly towering above me in either direction two massive snow-capped burnt-mountain volcanoes oh hello didn't see you there... The weather continued to clear and remained almost entirely pristine for the entire four days I was out tramping the Tongariro Northern Circuit, which winds thru a volcanic landscape unlike anything I've ever seen before, a great silent burnt-rock wasteland expanse, the odd inhabitable beauty of an alien planet, our own...

As I walked I began reflecting more and more on my recent experience with meditation and the changes I was beginning to see within myself, the spectrum of my awareness a little wider now, and more attuned to the living lessons of impermanence everywhere evident in the natural world around me. Surrounded by such an enfolding environment, I found myself almost instinctively inclined to sit and meditate at day's end, becoming myself another slow molten stone among the volcanoes' caloused feet... Because I had so little food —hummus crackers muesli pbj bread and granola bars about all— I had to ration very carefully, and also became acutely aware of how much food my body required, or how little. And yet, striding forward on skinny legs, my spirit remained ever full from the simple satisfaction of being out again in the thick of things, drifting free...

Nearing the final leg of the track I came to the foot of Mt. Ngauruhoe, a massive active conic volcano, and well yes it does look a little cloudy up there at the moment but I've seen the weather change so frequently I think I'll venture up and have a look... so I drop my pack and up I go its very very steep slope of volcanic shale & gravel, ascending one step for every two because of so much sliding... I become a walking respirator pistoning upward between a long arm of rock and a long treacherous snow field, and it takes about two hours to reach the top. Yet as I'm climbing ever higher its getting more and more cloudy, spitting rain occasionally and getting colder so I keep moving to keep warm, and eat two granola bars for fuel which should hold me unless... I reach the crater rim at last, great hulks of black rock and blue ice sulking indistinctly in the blurring fuzz of the cloud, wind and rain whipping around furiously now and apparently I did just deliberately climb up into a storm but it was a worthy excursion anyways so I press on might as well top off and climb this thing proper... visibility is about 15 feet around, and I'm spidering along the rim of the crater and can't see anything around up or down, storm is really picking up very cold now and perhaps this was actually a very stupid thing to do... but there are these warm currents brushing past me, like the vapours of swirling spirits, and some of these rocks are warm and... there in the volcanic crown I find a crevice where a hot steam vent is hissing out so I have a seat on nice warm rock in the beautiful warm vent, my very own Cloud Sauna way up in the gray heavens, sit nice and cozy and warm and giving blessings for the hot passion of the earth, just holed up in the volcano's fat lip, smiling into the Void and wiping the perspiration from my face until storm she quiets a little and I can make it back to the sloping bulk of the volcano. Peering down from the underbelly of the clouds, down several thousand feet into the valley where its nice and sunny, I throw my heels out and pitch my weight back and basically surf down the side of the volcano, like surfing on the moon I imagine, two hours to climb up and 20 minutes to surf down and down tumbling back to the earth I bring you "...yesterday, lost in a cloud..." And now found...

And around and around, for Thanksgiving — Thanksgiving! What a brilliant holiday, all the grace and communion of family without the commercial preoccupation of Christmas - missed it dearly, but had a sort of a thanksgiving anyways, actually I ended up at the home of a Maori elder, took a bunch of us travellers in and served us a traditional Maori meal, so Thanksgiving this year in the good graces of song and dance and circle of world peace, and giving thanks indeed for all the opportunities all the blessings that I'm able to wander the world and make some sense of myself while I'm still so young — everyone I meet keeps reminding me, you're so lucky to be experiencing all this while you're so young they say, and I don't really know if I believe in luck but Things Happen and this is just a few of the moments, mirrors of mind where we meld with reflections, and the experiences the education the Insight the Insights all opening up wide as big sky, a pretty heavy movie from my perspective anyways, ever condensing and evaporating, an'on...

(...to be continued...)

Yours with love, A

03.06.2003

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9


Lake Taupo region, North Island (from net)

Mt. Ngauruhoe, Tongariro Natl. Park (from net)

The Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Natl. Park (from net)

Tongariro Natl. Park - Aerial View (Mt. Ngauruhoe & Mt. Ruapehu) (from net)

atop Mt. Tongariro

Land of the Long White Cloud (from net)

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9

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