Wednesday, March 13, 2013

As The World Turns?

I look out the guest bedroom window into the dawning light and see tail lights. Cars, buses and occasional trucks are rounding a curve. Their occupants are heading for work in Wellington. Across the road is a bay which is at low tide. Soon water will be flooding in from the Tasman Sea. Its grayish-green tint suggests the reflection of the bushes and squatty trees that cover the surrounding hillsides.

My mind continuously wanders. It is laden with memories, ideas and scenes collected over the last several days. It is like a rope loosened from a mast of a sailing ship. It is a gathered chain of associations flopping in the wind and colored by volcanic ash and bleached sunlight.  I feel its length paid out across this Pacific Island over the ocean and back to America, through my childhood and beyond, into my imagination of the past.

I am in my second week in New Zealand, a land first named and briefly touched by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in the 1690's but whose essence and magnitude was first brought to light to Europeans in 1770 by the Englishman Captain James Cook. When Cook arrived he encountered native South Sea Island people, the Maoris. They were vastly different than the gentle Tahitians that he had met before. This group practiced cannibalism, were covered with full-body colorful tattoos and extensive jewelry, and had a penchant for carving, poetry and song.

Like so many places in the world today, the vestiges of earlier cultures can be found in museums, at tourist-oriented villages and staged reenactments, from the names on street signs and geographical and historical landmarks. I see the descendants of these people everywhere.  They physically resemble their long-departed ancestors but probably only a very few full-blooded Maoris left in New Zealand. I hear them speak, along with English, some approximation of the original language which has now been equipped with written letters. These people make up a significant part the lower eschelon of the economic spectrum and have been the beneficiaries of government compensation and largesse. What this fact means and its ramifications in New Zealand is the subject of countless debate and impacts its politics on many levels.

I shut my eyes and see a vision of the earth turning like in the opening credits of a movie. It is sunlit and has a huge blue expanse in its lower half. Within that azure area, there are clusters of brown spots intermingled. I am infinitesimally small, but alive, and existing on one of those larger, but still tiny, sandy-colored flecks. The many dug-out canoes are gone from the shore, the sailing ship, the Endeavor left over two hundred years ago and the luxury liner cruise ship with 4000 people left Wellington harbor yesterday. Tomorrow I cross Cook Strait to the South Island tomorrow. My journey is a human one, a predilection to wandering. In the past, it was expressed as venturing to lands where  "no man had gone before". Today I have my ferry ticket and rental car. I feel the good fortune of a promising wind at my back and a decent map to guide me.


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  2. A really nice explanation of where you are and what it means. I especially like the sculpture, and I also tried to imagine what it was like for Cook's men to see Maori culture via the reenacted dance. What amazing times they lived in.

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