Sunday, April 25, 2010


Glossary of Maori words (which commonly form part of place names): Motu = island. Rata is a red-flowered kind of myrtle. Moturata is a rocky fold marooned at the mouth of the Taieri River. Long spines of drowned land stretch south to hook hills to reefs ramped north under waves. Sand and tide make a shifting bridge to the last hill above water. Now it's there, now it isn't.

Six minutes from home, when the moon and wind are right, you can walk it. The sun went down, rain swung south, and the penguins came to roost. Their feet flapped. They came in clumps and teams from the roiling kelp to the tangle of bush. They can't see very well. At night, little blue flocks walk right past.

On the back side of the island, there's nothing but sea. Dunedin glows like a volcano behind the peninsula in the north. Moturata is full of strange whistles and trills. Dark waves. Clefts and caves and shadows of bushes overhead. The bridge is out of sight behind the hill. Nothing guarantees it will still be there when we come around the other side. It appears for three hours at a time, in a place where time seems strange and numbers stranger.

There is plenty to find and look at. Plenty to hear and imagine as we grope our way over hissing cracks and slippery weed. The lights of shore come into view again. The sea is climbing. The reflection of the sand is drowned, there is water between. We splash through, current tugging at the knees.

The island is a dark smudge in the sky behind us. We gain the van. The cops wonder where we've been. Or maybe they just wonder why.

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Van

Richard is testing out the sound in this wheelèd box I just bought for the price of a third world cow. Quite ringy. The natural frequency of a Ford Bongo turns out to be in the tenor range. Waves get compounded and compressed and ramp up all over each other. In the ocean and in the air, maleströms of sound.

The Ruins, Otago strand. bigger

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Big waves coming in the next few days. No insinuation, just talking about the weather.

Sunrise on the Brighton Bight, NZ

Monday, April 12, 2010


There's this awful adolescent grey area between belief in cosmic judgment and understanding that it would be nice to be remembered as a good neighbor. Graffiti fills that gap perfectly.

Rock and Pillar Range, Otago

Monday, April 5, 2010


The Rock and Pillar range scatters its tors all around. Bends in the gold-misering Otago Schist create crystallized lines of castles, frozen trolls, altars, tables, sphinxes, and wind-wrestled cock’s combs of stone. From the top of one block, dead hulks rise from dry grass spread below in all directions. For landscape’s life, you see the grass and plants and circling harriers. For inanimate lifelessly enduring earth, one imagines these standing rocks. Not so.

Each face and slab, every corner and alcove is covered. Every possible surface is occupied. Lived on. The earth here is coated entirely by replicating metabolizing colonizing cells. Lichen. At some point in history, a fungus offered to take its pet algae on a trip.

Fungus: "Listen, you chill out in this tiny aquarium between my cells, and I’ll show you the subaerial world"

Algae: “Sounds good. Maybe you can stop subsisting on the rotting refuse of other life and consume my fresh photo-sugars instead. You could enjoy an ascetic existence in which you derive raw energy second hand from built-in solar collectors, and your trace elements from the face of bare rock, thereby acquiring the capabilities required to live practically anywhere on Earth."

Fungus: “Deal.”
Lichen is a form of husbandry. People of the Asian Steppe live on the ability of their animals to turn grass into human food. Fungi survive from the products of tiny sequestered plant blebs pumping out sugar. Assembled, the magic miniature lichen pairing constitutes both an organism and an ecology.

The sharp and heinous Tsingy in Madagascar is also covered with lichen. Millions of snails thrive tucked into corners between the spires. After seeing closeup photographs of the rock showing rasped tracks through the encrusting lichen, biologist David Haskell told me “To snails, those rocks probably look like they’re covered in peanut butter.”

And who doesn’t like peanut butter?