I had organised to cycle to Wellington before the Kaikoura earthquake and it would have been messy to change bookings. From Murchison on, it was like entering a war zone, with massive trucks roaring past, carrying all sorts of machines, buildings, containers, or stuff from China. It would be easy to join the road kill and the degree of trust required was considerable.
Meanwhile the road itself, not designed for this amount of traffic, was quickly crumbling, with crews pouring asphalt into potholes. It was not difficult to see a volatile planet entering a macabre dance with a psychotic system trying to cope with an increasing level of crisis.
Spring Creek camping ground outside Blenheim, was full of young people on working visas tending to the vineyards – another version of the precariat – so the kitchen was a busy place. Their lifeline was their cell phone. They didn’t seem joyous.
But the ferry ride was pleasant, better for all that stuff to be floating on the sea; or on a train for that matter.
In Wellington I attended the National Film Unit reunion. I haven’t done reunions before. Strange to sidle up to someone you haven’t seen for forty years. What is there to say? It was a return to that feeling I remember having – the young renegade in the government department, whispering asides to other renegades. On Sunday we went to Peter Jackson’s post production studios, a feudal castle with mediocre art and whispers of awe at the technology. Meanwhile the northerly gale continued to howl a truly medieval response. It was very difficult cycling around the bays. But in the evenings, there were good encounters with David McGill and Omar and Serena.
On the bus to Napier I debated for two hours with a young fundamentalist Christian woman. She works for some crusade network. When I say work, she receives no salary, but trusts that God will provide. She was devoted to God and visits schools, runs holiday programmes, door knocks and talks to people in the street. She had a level of commitment that makes the lefties a bit soft in comparison. We debated creationism and I think I got through just a little when I compared the old testament to Maori myths and legends. I explained that I find both heaven and hell problematic, but have occasionally had a pantheistic experience.
I visited my brother in his rest home in Waipukurau. It seemed a pleasant enough place and he is cared for and can still have a smoke in a bothy, along with some others. The tobacco tax seems terribly harsh on these pensioners. I borrowed his car and drove to Napier, beginning to distrust the Hawkes Bay: one of those places of heightened consumption, born again Christians and sunshine – they seem to go together.
At eighty eight, my aunt, who I love, has had enough. Everything has become painful and life lacks dignity. How to die is the issue. My cousin and her husband certainly have all the gear. I slept in one of those flash caravans which are very close to space ships, with carefully designed space management, LED lights every which way, and no connection to the earth whatsoever, except electronically. As the container ships floated past, the wind continued to bluster.
Cycling back to the Coast, I decided I had been meeting deadlines and visiting people in crisis. It was time for a couple of days of holiday. I camped in the bush on the Wairau River, and then at Lake Rotoiti, where the morning bird chorus is impressive. At night I read my history of the Spanish Civil War, one of the truly tragic historical events of the last century.
Riding down the valley from St Arnaud early Saturday morning reminded me of what I like about cycling. Alone in a pristine world, with a tent, a sleeping bag and a bicycle. Before the trucks started, joined by people hooning off to a motorbike event.
In the Buller Gorge a cop car stopped me and a middle aged police man begged me to stay to the side of the road. I’m close to retirement, he said, I don’t want to scrape another one off the road. I reassured him that I’d be alright. He had intense eyes. I pedalled on but he had made me feel unsafe and the back tyre was losing air pressure. It was good then to pick up my car in Murchison, have a cup of tea with the kind Coaster who had stored it away for me, before driving home to savour a fresh egg. And have a shower and do some washing – I was beginning to smell.
A black beetle starts to cross the road
And I want to tell it of what I’ve seen
A possum endlessly run over and now felted
A hare, still robust of body, but dead and bloodied
A startled robin, no longer present
Hedge hogs forming discreet hair brushes
An exploded tyre like pieces of sculpture.
Of course, in Syria, the road kill would be
very different indeed, I say to the beetle,
so why not go back to your hole and
give up on this journey.