It’s pissed down for two solid weeks, unusual, even for the Coast. We’ve experienced all the varieties: showers, steady rain, squally rain, pouring rain, heavy rain, bucketing rain, plus hail, big winds, lightning and thunder. Occasionally, patches of blue sky have appeared, to be quickly covered by a new front coming over the Paparoas. The river is a majestic khaki torrent, but there’s no flooding – the land is skilled in shedding water.
We’ve got a dog, Whaea has two, and it falls on me to give them their daily exercise, rain or no rain. I wear the appropriate jacket and leggings for the type of rain being experienced – the old stiff yellow plastic remains the most watertight – and drive the dogs up to the edge of the rain forest, which basks comfortably in this wetness, park and begin walking up the Croesus Road. The dogs are like kids, fascinated by puddles, before the two young ones race into the bush after some scent. Water gushes down drains and cascades into the creek. The ferns preen, the beech trees are phlegmatic and as the thunder rolls, an occasional bird still mutters
Nor am I alone. A vehicle appears, Tiger the scaffolder, driving up to the track entrance, his dogs running behind. There’s a melee as my dogs bark and follow, a cacophony of sound, before the ute disappears into the mist and my dogs return.
As I plod through the rain, which for a moment is lighter, I think of the Auckland housing crisis, which has been much in the news. The solution’s simple: build a hundred of those Singaporean or Shanghai or Moscow or London or New York high rise apartment blocks and shelve the people away. If you want the Kiwi dream, as Andrew Little puts it, of detached house, garage and section for the kids to play in, head for the provinces. But they want to live in Auckland. Tough. Apartment block or the regions, folks. What about employment? Make it up. Most jobs seem pretty unnecessary. Bring in the UBI.
A jag of lightning and a roll of thunder. My dog barks at the sky, wanting to chase away this monster. The old dog shivers and plods on. The young one skitters up, looks me in the eye trustingly then races off, chased by mine, who has given up the thought of challenging the thunder god.
I mean, what’s the point of over large cities? When I last went to Auckland, people were living full time in backpackers, a bunk and a small locker in the kitchen the sum total of their personal space. Yet out in the street, along with the rest of them, they wore that mask of pretension – I live in a big city therefore I exist. When was it?- 1975, on an arts council study grant, jet setting from one capital to another and eventually arriving in London and thinking, this is the pits. On another occasion, arriving from Czechoslovakia to overnight in a squat and being entertained by an unemployed Scotsman sitting over a one bar heater in a room without a window, staring at a tv set and telling me how pleased he was to live in a free country.
Another vehicle, dogs on the back this time, look like pig dogs, have that focus as they bark at mine, who bark back. Another dog encounter. They love it. Off they go again.
I reach the point where there’s been a large slip which has disappeared the trees, so you can look across to the small cluster of houses at Roa. The valley is laden with mist, like a Japanese painting. Last night, driving home from rehearsal I listened to a talk by a geologist about the Anthropocene, the geological age where we humans dominate nature to the point where we become the signifying force. There’s a dispute as to where to mark the start. Some say the coming of fire, others agriculture, others the start of the industrial revolution. But each of those was unevenly spread around the globe. The consensus is beginning to be the 1950s, the time when the acceleration occurred: population growth, fossil fuel use increased exponentially, and nuclear bomb testing proliferated to the point where the traditional radio activity in core samples became overwhelmed by bomb testing residue. Hadn’t realised that. My thoughts flitted to the cancer epidemic. But as I look across to Roa, breathing in the extraordinary air of the rain forest, I realise the acceleration hasn’t occurred here. Not really.
The dogs have run on, and as the rain becomes heavier, I whistle and turn back. The trees sigh and the ferns laugh. Deep in the bush, a weka squawks. But here comes Tiger, his dogs on the back now. More cacophony, which quickly passes. The old dog stops to shit. No need for doggy bags, it’ll join the rest of the humus.
The water gushes, the thunder rolls once more.
This could be happiness.