Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Soul of Wit

My mother-in-law says my blog “has too many words.” She laughed in telling me this, realizing that words are, after all, the chief currency of most blogs. She just wanted to see some photos from our most recent trip to New Zealand. Later, it occurred to me that her assessment may have been directed not so much at the blog but its author instead.

The other day I went out for my usual meditation at the Quaker meeting house near the office. As I was about to take my seat on the front porch, I saw that two men were cleaning and painting a newly installed fence by the road. They belonged to Millennium Restoration, the outfit that had recently applied the same treatment to the fence bordering the graveyard. Wanting to preserve my privacy, I kept walking. I also noticed, in the field across the street, a clearing filled with stones arranged in a familiar, winding pattern.

One of the men, seeing my new intent, pointed to the rings of stone.

“What is that?” Millennium asked.

“A meditation labyrinth,” I answered. Deep creases formed on his brow.


“A meditation labyrinth,” I repeated.

“A . . . lab-inth? What’s that?”

At this point a competent rhetorician, or a rational adult human, upon sizing up his audience, would give the shortest possible answer so as to make good his escape. I wish I could tell you this is what happened. Alas, herewith did I launch into a telling of the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Fortunately, I managed to detect that the glint in the man’s eye was not rapture but rather the light of the burning sun under which he was toiling. So I quickly swerved into a line about needing to clear my mind and get away from the office for a few moments. He griped good-naturedly about the heat, but I pointed out, trying to be helpful, that at least he got to spend his time outdoors.

I took my leave and Millennium bid me “good luck.” I found this a potentially ominous thing to say, for what divine assistance would I require in traversing a path on which one cannot get lost? I reached the labyrinth, and just then a red-tailed hawk screeched and took flight from its perch high above the trees shading the cemetery. (Amazingly, this would happen again in exactly the same way later in the week.) I took this as a countering good sign.

I proceeded to wend my way through the labyrinth. And just as I reached the center and a suitable degree of “no mind,” a jarring sound from the outer world penetrated my consciousness.


It was Millennium. I didn’t look up from the stones, only smiled at the well-meaning intrusion. And reminded myself not to tell him, on my journey back, about that poor fellow named Yorick.

(And all this to say: trip pictures are up! Enjoy.)

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Captain Hawk: World Traveler

There’s more to come on our trip, but unexpected gadgetological troubles and the rebalancing of circadian rhythms means y’all’ll have to stand by for a bit. (The promised ethnographic study, “Kiwis and Their Attitudes toward Housing,” is forthcoming.) However, if you’re anything like my workmates, you want to know how Hawk did on the flights.

When people meet Hawk and witness his uncannily sunny disposition, they’re quick to say, “He’s such a good baby!” And of course he is, as all babies are good. But what they typically mean by “good” is “convenient and easy,” which, though we aim to keep these ideas separate, he certainly is. The flights were pleasant, if lengthy, non-events for the lad, with the added bonus of not requiring his least favorite accoutrement, the dreaded car seat.

One of the highlights of the trip, for me, was simply the privilege of being together with Hawk. I haven’t spent so much continuous time with him since he was born. As any parent knows, watching your child grow and develop is an immense source of joy and satisfaction, and here I felt I was privy to things I’d been missing during work hours. When he wakes, Hawk tends to bless us with his sweet, drowsy whisperings, though one morning he sat up and boldly and clearly proclaimed, “Garg.” He learned how to crawl up stairs, taught himself how to work a light switch, and one of the big thrills each day was pressing elevator and crosswalk buttons. He also worked on standing up without support, a skill he practiced by bouncing on the bed. By the time of our (10-hour) layover in LAX on the way back, he had done it several times, sans bouncing, from the floor of lovely Gate 8.

A friend of mine, who doesn’t have children, once suggested Jenifer and I get all our traveling in before having a kid. But I wouldn’t trade this time with Hawk for anything. Just as we’ve discovered that visiting other cultures teaches you more about your own, traveling as a family outside the usual day-to-day restrictions, in my experience, opens you up to a deeper sense of who you are and what you want in life. It's also great fun.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mount Victoria and the Lungs of the City

Yesterday I had a few hours to myself as Jenifer and Hawk visited some new friends, so I decided to spook around the neighborhood of Mount Victoria to enjoy the architecture and view. Turning left onto Hawker Street, however, I saw a sign for the lookout atop the mountain, so I abandoned my plan and followed the trail up the street past the orange-brick cathedral and monastery of Saint Gerard's, and continued up the wooded path into the bush. The slopes were steep and slippery from the off-and-on rain, but within 15 minutes I emerged from the green to the mountain's top. I'd passed the spot where Frodo and his Shire buds got off the road and suddenly came face to face with a very new and very flash public restroom. I crossed the street and a quick jaunt up an improvised trail took me to the highest point in the city.

The view is panoramic and reveals just how green the city is. Ironically, the only original bush left is that in the botanic gardens, but you can still appreciate the city planners' vision in creating a town belt that would bring oxygen to the growing class of workers for the Industrial Age. A surprise rainbow added a perfect, if unnecessary, final touch to the view.

We leave for the States this evening, so I'll add a few more posts, as well as pics, after we get back.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

In God's Golden Bowl

A million years ago, before the last Ice Age, we visited Nelson. I do endeavor to provide timely accounts of Where We Went and What We Ate, but time is nothing if not elastic when you're traveling, and is probably not best spent in youth-hostel Internet caves, especially when you're in New Zealand.

To this preface, however, I will add its epilogue, the account of precisely how we made our way to Nelson, which is to say that we nearly did not. The night before our Monday-morning flight, we decided to program the alarm on my new watch, a reward for 10 years of service at the day job. It was titanium and Danish, so no complaints there, but we did discover at this late hour, after perusing the instruction booklet we had so thoughtfully packed, that its "crown" could not, indeed, be extended to the third position, let alone the second. I would need to acquire an alarm clock if were were to awake in time for the flight.

And so I ventured across the oceanic breadth of Wakefield Street to the New World, which by New Zealand standards is a pretty good-sized supermarket. That I did this without any navigational devices, and possessing scanty star lore, without being struck by an automobile was a significant accomplishment. In the end, however, it would take three such sojourns to acquire the sought-after device and the 1.5V aka AA battery that powers it.

The "Abstract Art Swivel Alarm Clock" is a masterwork of Chinese design. You can tell its worth right from the box alone, which features the following instructions in no less than eight (8) different languages:

1. Removing the Battery Cover.
2. Inserting the Battery.
3. Setting the Time.
4. Setting the Alarm Time.
5. Using the Gerund.

Step 2 was my particular favorite, as the battery found its final resting place not because the slot was consciously designed to house it, but by a considerable application of will on my part. I won, but this meant the onset of a peculiar "click-clack" that would haunt me the rest of the night. Despite my lack of faith, the instrument performed its function, and early the next morning we were on our way back to Nelson.

The flight from Wellington to Nelson, across the Cook Strait, comprises probably the best 25 minutes in the air you will find anywhere in the world. We were treated to a glowing sunrise over snow-capped mountains, oceans of cloud, and that distinctive gemlike water. We had traveled once the other direction, taking the ferry from Picton; this mode of travel is equally majestic if rougher on those who haven't yet gained their sea legs.

When you land in Nelson's little airport, you are greeted by a flat plain encompassed by a far, long ridge of mountains whose distant strength is hard to capture on film. Once in the town itself, you find yourself enclosed by steep, verdant hills, long intersecting triangles of folded green in dappled golden light. The land here is reassuring, and you feel you have a solid place on the earth, as if you are given definition by its otherness.

We met with Kimberly and Cathy at the former's retreat in the section of Nelson called the Maitai Valley. The meeting was to be a yoga workshop of sorts, a reunion of those Jenifer had taught two years ago, but it was the Queen's Birthday, after all, and short notice meant a more intimate gathering would be had. After lunch in town, at the Morrison Street Cafe, we returned to the valley, and I stepped out to take some photographs and take in the view. It seemed I had stepped onto the set of The Last Samurai, even if that film was shot on the North Island. Just behind the retreat center was a small, sloped pasture, and I counted myself lucky to meet the likes of Zoe the goat and two horses, one brown, one white. How could you not grow as wise as they, living on the side of such a mountain?

Not all talk was yoga-talk, however; Jenifer, Hawk, and I also spent our share of time enjoying the view from Kimberly's spectacular and surprising Art Deco house. From the so-called Centre of New Zealand, which we had hike to last time, the house appeared an orange rectangle lodged squarely in the middle of a mountain. Up close, its color was terra cotta, its design boldly and aerodynamically Art Deco. It fit its environment quite suitably, and though Kimberly and her husband, both Americans, couldn't be more grounded, such a dwelling might well be considered "flash" even in avant-garde Nelson, home of healers and seekers. The architecture of New Zealand offers up some surprising secrets about the culture; I'll try to comment on these next post.

Jenifer and I also connected with Elayne, a massage therapist, and her husband Mark, a woodworker who specializes in Native American flutes. We had gone to Elayne for treatments on the recommendation of a mutual friend, and, as so often seems to be the case here, soon found ourselves invited over for dinner.

The flight "home" to Wellington the next morning was just as terrific as its predecessor, and it seemed we even brought a bit of Nelson's golden weather back with us . . .

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Weekend in Waikanae

I was going to post this entry yesterday, but Fortune stepped in and allowed us to catch the last showing of Star Trek at Wellington's Embassy Theatre. Good thing, too, because it seemed best to see how "The Future Begins" before discovering how "The End Begins" with the premiere of Terminator Salvation.

Yesterday was largely a regrouping day after returning from sunny Nelson on the top of the South Island. I'll get to our stay there next time, but first let's go back to our weekend in Waikanae. Through a mutual friend we met in Nelson two years ago, Jenifer connected earlier in the year with Melissa Billington, an American expat who teaches "Myoga" at her Powa Centre in downtown Wellington (and also on TVNZ's Good Morning show). As luck would have it, she was running a teacher-training workshop in Waikanae, about an hour north of Wellington on the North Island's west coast, and we were invited to go along.

The drive up was fairly unspectacular if you were somehow able to become bored with the steep hills, dense bush, and glistening blue-green water; or if, through a sizable act of will, you had overcome your fear of hurtling down the wrong side of the road, perched to the left of the driver as if dangling like the gyroscoping gun turret mounted on the far side of a B-wing fighter.

In any event, we safely reached our destination, a lush and serene place far from the road known as Saddle Creek Farm. As we crept along the winding dirt path, a massive black-tailed rabbit sauntered across the lane, taking all the time in the world and offering our whirring hrududu no regard whatsoever. He had dealt with our kind before.

The retreat building itself was a rustic wood cabin topped with the fairly commonplace corrugated steel roof that suggested a shantytown in Nairobi, Mumbai, or Johannesburg. Yet the scenery gave a far different impression, of a rugged land worked by rugged individuals who don't seem to mind the isolation of the bush or, indeed, of their tiny island nation.

Dinner that night, as all the weekend's meals, was prepared by a feisty Italian woman named Pia. The food was hot and excellent, an Italian/macrobiotic blend that was far heartier than I could have expected. Breakfast the next morning, however, would not be served until after a two-hour yoga practice that began at 5:30. Those familiar with my metabolism will know that this prospect was not encouraging, but somehow I found my center and enjoyed an excellent practice led by Melissa, and survived to tell the tale.

After breakfast, Hawk and I ventured into the wild. Along the way we met a strange goose with a green face and a box-like body. His "shoulders" were pointed and his honk sounded like an old-time motor car's; he was strange yet still familiar, as if from a world turned sideways, and typical of the fauna to be found on this fair green isle.

Further down the road we came upon a tiny white chapel set on a slope set before a tall sheep's grazing ridge. We had learned that this little building was actually the painting studio of the farm's owners. It seemed the perfect place for contemplation.

We returned from our tramp, content in having bolstered our man points; for we were the only males in a workshop full of women. The setting would have been perfect for who knows what manner of moon dancing, witchcraft, and Cosmo quizzes ("How to Tell If He Really Loves Your Dosha!"), but in truth the discussions (at least the ones I was privy to) centered around the science of Ayurveda and the Vedic moral precepts known as the Namas and Niyamas, as outlined by B.K.S. Iyengar in his book Light on Yoga.

I alway find that such getaways, when enjoyed in the company of new friends, tend to seem longer than they really are. But the darkness of Sunday evening rolled around soon enough, and we were on our way back to Wellington, for a brief interlude at our familiar room at the YHA, before an early-morning flight to the South Island, to Nelson, and to familiar faces.

Labels: , , , , , , ,