Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walking Ohope Beach

Ohope Beach stretchs east for about 10 km beyond Te Rangi Point, before folding back on itself to reveal one of the largest harbour bays in New Zealand. I ride the Beach Hopper bus from Whakatane to the end of the line, the last houses on Ohope peninsula, and walk through the long grasses, native trees and wild flowers of a Maori holding to the bay shore. Mid-morning - the sun is hot and in the lee of the peninsula, the water is calm, there is no wind. The beach, with the tide just returning, is a wide, empty space of fine hard sand.

James casts into deep waters, next cast is into the police force.
Around the first bend I meet James. A recent undergraduate from Otago University, James stands by his bucket and two long fishing poles, the lures expertly cast far out into the channel before us. He claims it is an excellent spot for fishing, regaling me with stories of long days and beach fires for an evening fry-up. Once he caught a big skate, “Ehh, now what! The barbed tail was whipping 'round, piece of wood on the tail and another to flip him back in the water.” James is on a break to “get fit.” He wants to make some money and his cousin told him if he could pass the recruitment tests for the national police, he would make $30,000 just for attending the 13 week training course, and if that went well he'd start at $65,000. His future looks sweet, especially through the lens of another couple of weeks on the beach fishing and getting fit.

I head back into the dunes, a native bird preserve. The vegetation is thick. There is a high profile campaign to protect vegetation to ensure the stability of the dunes and permanence of the splendid beach. I stir up some pheasants but it is otherwise still while I patrol through the shrubs. Gradually the sound of waves floats over the dunes and I return to the beach.

The bay channel reaches the ocean, wind, sand and spray.
The bay channel ends and the roll of the Pacific Ocean against the shores of this small island reminds me how far I am away from home. The wind is powerful and runs straight down the beach into my face. There is a constantly shifting flow of sand blowing past my ankles. To the west I see Motuhora which marks the beach at Whakatane. But there is not much to see beyond the details immediately before me; broken shells, beautifully wind-polished bits of wood and one set of bare foot prints proceeding me. I take off my shoes and head for the water. The shallow water is warm, it swirls cross the rippled sand, blown by the wind and crazing my view of the sand and shells just covered by its sheen. It is very relaxing and I move slowly through this liquid vision.

66 mediates the batt;le between Mother Nature and local access.
Eventually the beach front sprouts houses and I wander up the dunes to see the neighbourhood. I approach a bare chested, white-haired man weilding a hammer. We acknowledge each other and he asks, “How old are you? I'm 66 and still out here working in the sun and wind.” And he was hard at it, replacing posts and boards marking out one of the infrequent paths through the protected dunes to the beach. He tells me its important to help out Mother Nature and make sure we don't lose the dunes, but he he says its always a balance, you also have to please the people who want ready access to the beach. “Too far either way and its ugly.” Barely are the words out of his mouth when a spry, elderly woman approaches us.

      W: “So what are you working at here?”
66: “Oh, I'm replacing the posts, wire and board on the walkway.”
      W: “Doing this on your own are you?”
66: “No, no. Working for the district council. District council owns the walkway. Where do you live then?”
      W: “#26 over there” nodding down the street.
66: “So do you know Jim Mason then?”
      W: “He lives right in behind.”
66: “Ahh, he's my mate.”
      W: “Well, it's not like I've had drinks with him, you know.”
66: “Yeahh, he's my good mate.”
      W: “Well, I'm off then.”
66 turns and grins at me.

The modernist curved architecture of the 1920s and 30s is a prominent part of the North Island's housing stock.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hiking the Kapu Te Rangi Trail, New Zealand

Kapu Te Rangi Ridge and Whakatane.
Whakatane (pronounced fuck a tonie, like tonic) has a dramatic sea front location behind a long timber-strewn sand beach with the river running between town and the dunes out of a lush interior of farms and paddocks. The Whakatane land and sea scape, dotted with arrested volcanic eruptions, reflects the igneous origins of this land and the fiery conflicts between peoples that still simmer today.

The trail is currently being upgraded by a class from the local Trident High School. Their accompanying signs, modelled on a NZ beer brand's popular adverts, adds a bit of humour to the trail.
No dogs allowed, this is a kiwi reserve. No exceptions for dogs with certified kiwi aversion training. There are even contests for canine kiwi aversion. Not sure how they work, how far away does your dog run when it sees a kiwi? Besides, poison and killing traps for stoats are also scattered through the reserve. I later learn that a bite of bait kills an animal within 4 metres.
There is a hiking trail that follows the great rocky ridge that separates Whakatane from the Ohope beach to the east. A steep climb to the top of the ridge back of town, the refuge place in case of a tsunami, and then one heads to the higher ground of the ridge's central spine where I visit the first of the three pa (fort/settlement) that dominated this regional landscape for almost a thousand years. The first humans to the islands of Aotearoa were Maori, the name applied by newcomers to all indigenous peoples, who arrived in their waka (canoe) in 1100 according to the logo of the Whakatane District Council. The waka are one of the key identifiers of the diverse groups represented by the present day term Maori, each iwi (tribe) being a descendent from one of the waka that settled the islands over a period of some 400 years. Waka papa means geneaology or lineage. At the conference I attended last week most presenters, Maori and Pakeha (newcomer) alike, opened their papers with a brief waka papa in Maori. I did the same, but in English, when I gave a lecture on the Yukon treaty to the grad students at Te Whare Wānangao Awanuiārangi (indigenous university) yesterday. Nobody will bother to listen to you if you don't know who you are or where you come from.

The Whakatane River enters the Pacific Ocean from behind the beach.
For almost a century there was armed conflicted either amongst Maori or between Maori and Pakeha. This history of killing, rape, relocation, and exile still lingers in Maori memory. There was time when children were named after the suffering of their parents and grandparents, the mark of these hard times built into the waka never to be forgotten. In Whakatane today however there are signs of coming together. A set of display panels, in both English and Maori, around town speak to the long presence of the Maori and their distinct relationships with the landscape that Pakeha have moved into. The benches in parks and along the river walk are shaped like the waka that brought the first humans to this place.

Capt. Cook, killed by Maori, and Te Tahi O Te Rangi from the first waka in 1100, ride their inter-sectioned canoes at The Bean coffee shop in downtown Whakatane.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trans-national Auckland

The Ferry Building, Auckland
Meeting people speaks to the trans-national character of Auckland, the Pakeha - Polynesian metropolis of the south Pacific. On the way into town I share a shuttle with Jonathan, a wine merchant who represents New Zealand with the country's finely fermented grapes. Jonathan lives in a small city in the South Island's wine district but he travels widely in the Pacific world marketing New Zealand wines. Alberta, Canada is just beyond the bounds of his success in the western world, while Singapore and China in the east are his main markets. The Chinese have become keen wine buyers, though Jonathan noted their preference for wine's investment value. “They'll buy a complete shipment of really expensive stuff and sell on half of it to pay for the lot.” His work gives him insights into the world of the 1%.

On the Half Moon Ferry into downtown I meet Llangand, a young commerce student going to Auckland University, “its one of the world's top 50”, to write the last exam for his degree. He's lived in Auckland for the three years of his studies and complains that its “a boring town, there's nothing for young people to do, no festivals, no nothing.” When I ask Llangand where's he's from, he pauses. He finally says he grew up in South Africa but notes that means nothing. He then goes on to speak of his identity as a Portugeuse/Sri Lankan. His mother raised him in Singhalese and, in addition to English, he is fluent in Portuguese. But none of this seems to matter, he has relatives in the United States, in New Jersey. “That's the best country in the world. I will to go there.” As we leave the boat he attempts to slip by without paying his fare, but he falters at the exit and joins the line-up. Even global citizens have to pay the piper. I wonder if he will be banker.

On my return trip I chat with Ruby, a ruddy cheeked woman who grew up on the shores of a then rural Half Moon Bay in the early 1950s. As we pass down the developed shoreline of the estuary she provides an affectionate reminiscence of her youthful adventures, “it was all farms and wild lands then.” She points out the site of her house on top of a ridge now covered with bayview mini-mansions spreading like an invasive species. “And over there (pointing to the quays of the yacht club), we played on the beach, and that little knob, right there, that's Pigeon Mountain. It was completely bush in those days. I climbed it with my brothers once.” And we continued so until the ferry docked and Ruby went off to take photos of the old spots for her mother in Nelson.

My hosts in Farm Cove are relatively recent immigrants from northern England. Charlie and Candy arrived in Christchurch in the 1980s, an eager young couple. Charlie was the last of his family to abandon Britain for this new world, parents and siblings already well settled by the time he and his wife arrived. But when they came they worked hard at fitting in. Both attended Maori lessons for several years, gaining language skills, but more importantly developing a sense of the different cultures of New Zealand and the challenges of living in a place with multiple myths of origin and purpose. Their sensitivity to this has led them along living paths that weave between Maori and Pakeha ways of being.

Waiting for my last ferry trip, I stop at the shipping container coffee shop to get my latte. Waiting by the window are four Maori women; mother, grown daughter, auntie and friend. They've just ordered 14 expresso coffees and chocolate milk and are giggling with anxiety, hoping the drinks will be ready before the Waiheke Island ferry leaves. They have three cars packed with kids and Elders at the landing, everyone wants a treat before heading over to the island for a funeral. They're worried too that their order will cause me to miss the ferry. Did I have a ferry reservation? Was I coming to the funeral? I am swept into their world and as the expressos come through the window we all run to the dock in turn, each returning to our own world of myth and meaning. I smile with the pleasure of having touched, and been touched by, this other world.

Some worlds are large,
and some worlds are small.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Freeze Up

The Takhini River confluence with the Yukon River, early November sunrise.
The first signs of Yukon winter show in late August. The tops of the mountains across the valley whiten with what we call "termination dust." Coincident with the dropping of the last blossoms from the top of the fireweed stalks, this first high altitude snow, and its gradual descent down the sides of the mountains through September, signals the coming end of camping trips and marks the time to start some serious thinking about the wood pile. Other signs appear in the woods around the house. The leaves drop from the bushes and we find the squirrels have placed the dried caps of this summer's plentiful mushroom crop in the branches. We also find them elsewhere. When I took my truck in for winterizing, the mechanic forecast "pissed off squirrels at your house." When checking the air filter he found that the connected air channels were packed with dried mushrooms, "a whole box full." The air filter was fine.

We used to have picnics on these beaches in the spring before the water rises.
As precipitation turns from rain into snow through the fall the rivers start to dry up. Water flows on the Yukon River drop to less than a fifth of their summer highs. On the Takhini River behind the house we watch the thin strand of fine summer sand expand into huge beaches, now rimed with ice.

A major fall activity around here is hunting. And with hunting there is always the question of what you do with your moose guts. One woman wrote a letter to the newspaper complaining that hunters were just dumping them in the woods that surround most of Whitehorse's subdivisions. She railed against this practice describing how her dogs had come across them and returned home covered in offal and suffering digestive issues (making them unpopular in the house). Within a few days a hunter had replied railing against dog owners who let their dogs run free to cause trouble. This is how Cabin Fever starts in the Yukon.

Ice pans floating down the Takhini behind our place.
This week the river has been throwing ice. There are wide shelves of clear and suprisingly thick ice reaching out from both banks. But the river current still runs shallow and fast in the centre carrying with it large circular pans of ice. Ocassionally they jam on the shore ice and gradually build it up.

The nights are long now. Early one morning I noticed the window glowing green and went outside to see the first of this winter's Northern Lights.

Amost frozen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trio Bembe rocks the house

A couple of weeks ago, the Western Canada Music Industry conference was held in Whitehorse. While focused on discussions of marketing, recording and venue management, you can't have a music industry conference without music. Some 50 different bands and musicians came up to the Yukon to show their stuff. Every club, bar, public space in town had scheduled performances through most of the days and all of the evening of the conference. If you weren't at a PVL (industry talk for "performance venue location" or club, bar and public space, see I talked to these people) within a few minutes of 7 pm, you weren't getting in at all.

Rodrigo Munuz
Scott Senior
Amber Epp, of Winnipeg, got in touch with us and we offered to billet her Trio Bembe during their stay in the North. She, Rody Munoz and Scott Senior, all also members of the larger Papa Mambo, deliver Latin music with power, enthusiasm and a catholic sense of what Latin includes. They're looking at working up a Romanian folk tune to add to the repertoire. During the day they took in workshops and meetings and through the evenings they wowed Whitehorse audiences with their energetic performances. But in the morning through relaxed breakfasts they turned the house into a PVL, singing, strumming and using the pots and pans as the percussion section.

Amber Epp
The highlight of the conference was the Sunday night awards ceremony. Joy and I attended and sat through the opening jokes and reminiscences of the industry seniors, and then, YAHOOO, Trio Bembe took the award for best World Music for their album Oh my soul. A great finale for an exciting weekend of terrific music. Next time we're in Winnipeg we'll be looking for Trio Membe and Papa Mambo.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Walking the Southwest Coast - Mines and Computers

Sennon Beach - one of the surfing destinations, cold water through.
The following days were sunny and we walked through one of the most intensively developed mining districts of Britain. From Roman times there have been tin mines in Cornwall. The invention of steam-powered engines allowed deeper mines and greater production. By the early 19th century the country side was littered with stone boiler houses, smelting furnaces, pit heads and the crowded hovels of the tens of thousands of miners, and their families, who lived life under permanently coal-darkened skies. Now, the mines are long closed, some are museums, the rest romantic ruins sheltered in World Heritage Sites and paddocks. The population of Cornwall is a small fraction of its mining hay day. However computer and business management firms remove here from London offering their employees lifestyle and affordable housing.

Little is left to chance on the trail. Signs warn of all sorts of dangers. My favorites were the 200 kg chunks of polished granite lying beside the trail near Lands End. Precisely chiseled into each block was a single word, highlighted with red paint, CLIFF. Beach front houses, too polite to say no trespassing,instead mounted well illustrated placards warning of "Poison Snakes."

But most locals are friendly. When Chris bought a shirt in Penzance the young clerk advised us to drop down into a small secluded beach some distance beyond Land's End. He explained that it was the site of his successful courtship of his now wife. Nanjizil Beach was indeed stunning and if the marriage is as spectacular as the cove it will be both passionate and prolific.

Nanjizil Beach
The Minic Theatre at Port Curno is a fine example of the eccentric possibilities of the English. It is an 800 seat theatre carved out of the sea cliffs providing open air drama through a 17 week summer season. And it is always packed. The result of the ceaseless labour of Rowena Cade who first arranged a gorse strewn cliff gully into a stage for "The Tempest" in 1932. Now managed by a charitable trust the theatre offers a dramatic venue for performances. Audience arrives early jostling for the open seating. Each group packs in wine and glasses, smoked salmon, fresh bread and cheese and fruit for a fine supper in the evening dusk waiting for the sun to go down and the curtain to come up.

"The Pirates of Penzance" played the night we were in Port Curno.Performed by the same Cambridge University theatre group we watched during our time in Cambridge five years ago.

The Celtic remains of a long ago Cornwall still adorn many fields. Standing stones and tumuli are widely dispersed. On our way from the Minic Theatre we stop at the "Merry Maidens" a circle of upright stones in the middle of a pasture. Our grandfatherly taxi driver tells us the dour church parsons of the past remonstrated that the foolish girls must have been dancing on the Sabbath and were turned to stone by the devil. A curious devil doing the Lord's anger. I suspect it was shepherds putting up dancing decoys hoping to lure maidens to their lonely stations.