As always, when the big peak set in, I needed to get on the road. Like the tall old man who walked the streets of Whangarei, from one end to the other. The story we always heard was he was walking to stay alive. If he stopped walking he would die. Maybe we would all die. And there he was: a towering figure with big, thick-heeled shoes, slightly stooped with suspenders on his baggy gray trousers, ruby nose and cheeks and kindly eyes covered by white thinning hair. His endless quest, long suffering penance, Atlas carrying the weight of the world, and yet time for kindly smiles to children and crumbs to passing birds.
And so, having said my goodbyes, I set off on my trip. Always drawn to her for solace, Moana my mother, my merciless siren beckoner. It was as if Maui himself, there in the shadow of great Taranaki, reeled me in on a long line kontiki. Tree-trunk thighs embedded on flat black rock, barnacle toes, ruby red petal locks casting perfect flecks of shadow; sun one minute an aura around translucent yellow-green foliage, the next distinct bites of diamond colour-cutting radiance penetrating between the leaves, into eyelids and entering dreams.
Drawn along, a captive to the drawing, the endlessly stretching road beyond which the sea slices the long flat sky on the horizon somewhere in the indeterminable future. The dawn, holograms of pink-blue-purple-grey-green, rhythmically thronging with a barely audible hum, angelic purring, eternal moaning, universal waves of ah and om. Legs no longer alternating planks but shimmering fire-fly circles, buzzing stars and neon twinkles. Ambulating, rotating, rolling like electric tumbleweed down the hill, reaching at last the Te Henui stream. Crossing the small encrusted rust-iron bridge. Picturing where white and tan grandfathers once rolled up trousers and sleeves, skipped stones and whistled while aproned grandmothers dished out date scones and jam on the small patch of sand next to driftwood infused pebbles and rocks which lay scattered along the river beach. Tartan rug with tied off tassled edges, thermous flask, emerald green plastic plates, collections of gathered shells and yellowing newspapers.
Further up the beach, morning surf throbbing foamy white and shiny iridescent blue. Black sand not black at all but speckled with shimmering metallics, tans and swirls of volcanic ash, like the ashes of fires we used to light up at Waiwakaiho. Thawing out after a winter surf. Our lives entwined with nature, the long iron sand beach our boundary, our marker on the edge of the void. Old dry logs like the bones of our fathers, laying around in tortured slumber, fuel for our fires and hidey holes for our clothes. Petty differences like waves looming large perhaps, but the great volcano overshadowing us all.
Paddling into the howling-offshore tubes, icy spray stinging eyes, taking off blind, loud fizzle behind the break, instant rain shower drenching those behind, straight away clearing to powder blue winter sky, long straight silver barrel wall. Going left at the Kumera Patch, steep fast section, speed wobbling, so close to making it …but not making it. Step off awkwardly, suspended in time, fearful chastisement, unforgiving wrath, no escape, Moana’s dark and choking hold. Eyes clenched shut, waiting for her frozen fist to fall. Already stretched breath having to stretch for who knows how much further, vice-cramping calf muscles added for further punishment, crunching-instant-furious-electric-screaming-whiplash release of energy born who knows where. Antarctica by the feel of it.
Puniho was never so fierce. Moana’s more feminine curvature. Leisurely flanks where as if controlled by strings we could wander to the edge of her field and then cut back in towards her supportive and kneading womb. And when at times she sprung up proud out the back, as if to remind us of her great power, we paddled maniacally toward the ever upward horizon, and even as her huge ramparts collapsed right in front of us, we could just let go the board and dive deep to volcanic boulders, silent refuge to hide until the motherlode washed over, leg rope tugging us along, popping up through the foam for an urgent breath and quick look to see if she was sending another one down. We could take two or three but if it got to five, the panic could creep in.
Out of the water now, hands paralyzed with cold so we could barely undo our zips, cigarettes lit with wetsuits still on, shaking uncontrollable, loud outbursts of teeth-chatter-baby-jibberish, our primeval conversation with the fire element. A summoning perhaps to get wet dead foliage, twigs and beach offerings of old cigarette packets and icecream wrappers to kindle. More smoke than fire but with persistence a tender flame would rise. A reluctant orange-headed orphan but a potential inferno nonetheless.