I was in Auckland recently, taking a workshop at Kotare School for Social Change. It was a stimulating weekend with good talk and a taking of the pulse of things politically.

Before coming home, I spent a night with Phill, my sculptor mate and he took me for a ride along the bike trail running alongside the North West Motorway, which is being linked to the motorway that comes from the airport – I think – the Auckland motorway system is getting pretty complex.

northwest motorwayWe paused to look at the construction of a complex flyover system. There were numerous people pedaling along, some fast, some slow, the cars were hurrying past on the motorway proper as Phill pointed out an amazing machine that squeezes out safety barrier like toothpaste. On two occasions we had to leave the cycle trail and cross a main road, always a terrifying moment for a rural idiot – a bike is a fragile machine, as is the human body.

A couple of days after I got home, my soul tender from threading my way through airports and shuttle services, I biked up to Roa with the dog before breakfast.

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It was a pleasant morning, the sun slowly coming up, the dog  pausing to crap in some long grass – no leashes or doggie bags required, no fines… no people yet, just the specifics of plant, coal bearing rock, water and the steady, uphill push. Two kereru flapped up from the bracken and flew heavily into the bush-clad hills. Walter was still in bed, I surmised, as was Ralf. The sheep stared, then returned to nibbling.

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There were an amazing number of webs attached to the grass. I paused and studied the miniature spiders running around, still encased, too young for the wild. The dog moved to a ditch and dunked her head and shoulders into the water, came up dripping, before running on, refreshed. On the right, next to a beech tree that stands proudly, as if a beacon, lay the paddock of sawdust from the old mill – rimu, good for the garden.

I pushed up the steep part of the hill to the old picturesque hut. Noel cuts the paddock with his weed eater ‘to make it look like a Constable,’ he told me. The creative impulse.

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The few houses, in one of which lives a woman who keeps llama, are nestled in privacy. No coal trucks today. Anyway, Roa mine is closing. The end of an era.

I reached the top of the hill and turned. The dog, knowing the routine, had slyly remained at the bottom of the steep ascent. A first car, a ute, drove along slowly. Probably someone going hunting. We waved at each other. And then Tony appeared, on his morning walk. Human life was surfacing. Freewheeling down, the dog trailing behind, I began to weigh the advantages of living here as against living in Auckland. I can’t go to the theatre tonight, or have a range of movies to select from. I miss out on a variety of political meetings and events. But neither will I trudge along the Auckland waterfront with a gormless expression, searching for something to do (an image that stayed with me as I was coming into the city from Kotare.

Things are slower here, that’s for sure, although they still happen. The next night I would have a conversation in the pub with a young New York Jew studying mathematics, Russian parents, father now living in Israel… he’s a young man living in the heart of the beast (he’ll nod when I use that phrase). He will tell me about Makhno, the Ukranian anarchist who fought during the Russian revolution. The young New Yorker will tell me he’d like to live in Blackball, but I will suspect he never will.

So, one is not isolated, the dog is not on a leash, the spiders will come out of their web and do what spiders do, nor do I need a million dollars to have a roof over my head. Ultimately, it can often feel more sensible than the machine which can spew out concrete barriers like toothpaste.

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