Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Urban Jungle

January 4, 2017

The lush and dark green vegetation has closed in around me. A mossy, moist air exudes stringent layers of tropical heat. Vines snake up slender palm trunks towards the somber canopy. Exotic birds swirl around sporting plumage not seen anywhere else but here, on the most far out continent of the earth. If it weren’t for the little metal plates on the tree trunks, engraved with black letters, revealing local and Latin names of botanic species, I might be tempted to teleport myself back to a sultry Pacific Island. The fact is I’m barely a couple hundred meters away from the more hustling than bustling central business district of the three million strong City of Brisbane, where slender columns of glass, steel and concrete have grown much higher than any palm tree would ever dare.

Right next to these splendid Botanic Gardens four rows of solid piles have been driven into the muddy bed of the Brisbane River, which meanders through the town with its murky brown waters like a feathered serpent looking in vain for a healthy bite at its very own tail. It’s between two of these piles that our Aluna is moored, now already for a good three weeks. Back in the mantic mania of civilization the pull of time is once again mighty strong.

Hectic, unabashed, desperately virtual, tantricly absorbed, fiercely abused, methodically ignored: the gardens are used from dusk to dawn for the popular fitness craze, where phosphorescent colored sports ware under the tight control of smartphones strapped to biceps and handlebars absorbs the sweat of rapidly aging bodies. While living a life with loads of labor and a little lack of lust, spending the rest of their days inside cubes and concrete slabs, the absent gaze in the eyes of the Brisbanites hurrying along the many pathways of the park feels shamefully hollow. The contrast to the calm and ever-present people in the outer islands of the Pacific could not be greater. We have come far along in the process of man’s alienation from his natural roots. Modern man is a somber beast, lost infused in the illusion of control, terrified tremendously by his and her own so deeply crippled emotions. The switch to the robotized self has been completed, each physical unit thoroughly enslaved to a mirage of artificially animated clumps of matter, circling like mutilated bumblebees inside slightly swollen skulls.

I never seem to get tired to find fancy words to describe modern man’s frantic intent to rid himself of each and every tie to nature, this blind but very methodical urge to strangle life at its very source. The memories of ‘our there’, where this madness has had limited reach as of yet, these exotic places we have had the privilege to immerse our tired selves in until just barely one month ago, these memories are fading fast while we are being reabsorbed into a sterile world of steel, glass and concrete, hydrocarbon fuels and artificial intelligence, where the value of every single thing is extensively measured a billion times a second. The mind stands back in awe, numbed in an almost total anesthesia, the eyes wide open jaguar-like, staring into and scanning the void, the body aching with its movement restraint by arthritic joints.

What to do, apart from feeling the pain? There must be cracks in this world of glitz and glitter where resilient seeds can grow! There must be uncontrolled air space to undertake experiments of levitation! There must me sacred souls with sufficient suffering to generate a sound but subtle longing for understanding!

Espiritu Santo

August 23, 2016

This largest of Vanuatu’s 81 islands received its name from Spanish explorer Quiró, who named it such at the relief of finally having discovered the Australian continent. That’s at least what every tourist guide regurgitates as the official version of history. As a seafarer the story does not make much sense. You do not have to travel very far up or down the coast to realize that this is a rather meager continent, but man’s brain is always eager to see what it longs to see!

In contrast to the other islands a spirit of desolation reigns here. Just yesterday we travelled on the only asphalted stretch of road from our tranquil anchorage at Suranda Bay up the east coast to Port Olry right at the tip of the island’s thumb, if with a bit of fantasy one sees Espiritu Santo’s outlines on a map as a gloved hand about to pinch the Torres Islands spread out to the north. Coconut plantations of an astronomical scale line its entire fifty some kilometers. They seem to linger in various states of abandonment, some with still smoldering furnaces where the copra is dried over wood fires, surrounded by shabby shacks with rusty corrugated iron walls, to stretches where quite obviously no human hand has wrought the orderly rows from the verdant power of native vegetation, and where from most of the palm trees only a somber stalk remained aimlessly trying to scratch the sky for mercy. Prices of copra on the world market have long sunk way beyond the point where one could edge a half way decent living from such venture, but man sticks to the old even when it only provides him with misery and pain.

At the prettier spots along the coast the remnants of a once spectacular beauty are now harvested with a string of fancy resorts, who cater to an eclectic assortment of backpacker tourists, who are diligently entertained with rustic furniture in thatched huts and cold local beer at exorbitant prices. The atmosphere is friendly, the service, while not exactly agile, is well intended. But the capitalist mentality, if I may call it such, has a dominant foothold on the land and its people. This much is very painfully clear after our now almost three months stay here in this island nation: The Ni-Vanuatu do have a special flair for money. They see no shame in asking for fees to ‘visit’ even the most desolate place crudely prepared for showing off some little thing that remotely looks like something traditional, and even the hitchhiker clinging on to the rusty railing of a pickup truck bed is expected to pay his fare to ride into town. That inborn love for the cash must have something to do with the fact that the Vanuatu currency, the Vatu, is amazingly strong when measured to international standards. This is a bit of a mystery to me as my understanding of economics is rudimentary at best, but I suspect there must be a good bit of dirty business at its root, with offshore banking just the tip of the iceberg. The prices for goods and services here are on par with New Zealand, some things actually being more expensive here in comparison. The sad truth in all this being that the global monetary system with each and every one of us as its willing slaves favors the greedy, rewards the ruthless and serves the exploiters.

The main town of Luganville, or Santo, as it is called locally, is a non-descript stretch of road along the northern shores of the Second Channel, lined with businesses of all sorts with the hustle of commerce stirring up an angry dust and people rushing from place to place no longer with gardens on their minds, but their hands cramped close to keep their purse strings tight. The market square being a kind exception to the rule, where once again colorfully dressed ladies of all sizes squat behind heavy wooden tables laced with grapefruits, pawpaws, bananas, cabbage, beans, cucumbers, yams, kumaras and much more of the tropical bounty. Even a dead fruit bat can be had for the humble sum of 400 Vatus. Its vendor stretched out its lifeless wings for us to take a picture, sensing very well our exotic ethical concerns.

The time has now come to leave this prosperous nation and continue our track north towards the Temoto province of the Solomon Islands, one of the poorest on earth. We are approaching the area of our present mission to track the state of the two Wharram sailing canoes on Anuta and Tikopia. While we have received good news from the Anutans, who seem to make good news of the gift bestowed upon them by sailing back and forth between their home island and the province capital Lata on Lendo Island, the same sadly does not seem to be the case for their Tikopian brothers. Lapita Tikopia apparently lays abandoned somewhere under the sun and our only reliable information comes from Westerners having visited the island. According to them the hulls are still in decent shape while the beams seem weathered and the lashings and probably most of the rigging has been pilfered for ‘other’ purposes. Klaus Hympendahl, together with the Wharrams the driving force behind the Lapita Expedition and friendly liaison between the West and the Tikopian chiefs, had before his sudden and surprising passing managed to arrange that the canoe be brought to Vanikoro, where a community of Tikopians promised to make better use of it. Unfortunately there is no evidence to anything having happened in that direction either. Our task therefore becomes one of assessing the will amongst those once proud island people, a feat that has been done before mostly with disastrous consequences. We promise to do our best to nudge this well-intended white man’s gift into a more fruitful and sensible direction.

Decent internet access being confined to the two main islands here in Vanuatu, while being marginal in all the other islands, we expect this to deteriorate further as we move from a relatively wealthy nation to one of the poorest on the planet. So please be patient and forgiving if the reporting becomes a bit sparser and poorly illustrated with fancy pictures. I’m convinced that your well nurtured imagination will be readily able to compensate for that lack of visual entertainment and your ever inquisitive minds will generate their own optical emotions into what you will be extract from my upcoming verbal barrages.

Tomorrow Aluna will be setting sails again on a northerly course and after a hopefully benign journey of about 300 sea miles we plan to anchor in the beautifully named Graciosa Bay, have a friendly chat with a gang of government officials in the township of Lata, and then get to work on our gracefully intriguing project.

Epi

August 11, 2016

There are these places on our lovely planet Earth that just have a weird feel to it, and you can never quite put your finger on what exactly it is. We had cut up our passage up north from Efate to Epi Island into two segments, biting into the wind for the first day and then spending the night anchored on the lee side of Emae Island, a small speck of land with three rounded mountains on it neatly arranged in a line from northeast to southwest. In the vast field of coral where the anchorage was indicated on the charts we only found one narrow strip of light blue sand to put our anchor in. The manoeuvre had to be done with military grade precision, and we did sleep lightly during the night. But still it was way better than bouncing up and down all night long out on the dark and moonless sea. The next day was a brisk downwind sail up along the west coast of Epi, which showed itself full of fantastic rock formations tempered by a very verdant cover of luxurious vegetation. Lamen Island sits just off the northwest tip of the island and shelters a wide bay to the east on the main island that sports the very same name. A sizeable village lies behind the dark grey sand beach with a red painted market hall, a good sized secondary school surrounded by boarding houses and an grassy airstrip from where a worn wind sock was lazily dangling in the tempered trade winds that tumbled down in harmless williwaws from Epi Island’s mountainous interior.

It was a Friday night when we arrived in Lamen Bay and we were told that in the main village of Covo Beach, a couple of bays further to the South, the festivities for the 36th anniversary of Vanuatu’s independence would come to an end tomorrow with a grand closing celebration. The place was clearly too far to paddle to with our canoe and with our painfully gained knowledge of the amazing prices for transportation in the local flatbed trucks we decided to brave the rising mid-morning heat and started out on foot on the dusty two-wheel track. It soon started climbing a rather steep hillside before dwindling back down on the other side. We walked past a nicely manicured village along the bay that followed and walked up two more similar elevations before arriving at the location, where a small stage had been set up to one side of a football field. From there a persistent MC kept trying to enthuse the loosely spread out crowd to congregate. Alas his worthy efforts where mostly in vain, as the locals continued to sit in their clan like clusters here and there around the market square, in the shade of some giant mango trees, where they kept laughing and giggling unabated. We sat down on one side of the market square and dusted off our shoes as best as possible. Two ladies soon entered the covered area and performed a short dance with swinging hips sinuous shoulder moves, apparently with the intention of definitely setting the festivities in motion.

Unlike with other places we have visited there was no friendly invitation to sit and join in, quite to the contrary there was an impression of being sized up by slightly clenched eyes and getting coldly mustered from afar. Right after the initial dancing the honorary guests where invited up to the little stage, introduced with names and their public functions and a group of important looking ladies decorated them with colorful leis made of local flowers. Those honorable men then started an impressive series of political speeches, which unfolded just as it would have at any other place on the planet. Stale ideology squeezed out of clenched teeth, pretty promises were made that will never be kept and a heroic sounding history hurried alongside to cover up the miserable facts of the poor listeners factual existence. I rarely get bored, because boredom only happens to the one who doesn’t see, but in spite of my efforts to listen to the nuances of Bislama and to spot the precise mechanism of indoctrination, my backside soon started itching and we got up to go for a stroll towards the beach. A group of musicians sat in the shade further away from the blaring loudspeakers. They were waiting just as we were for their turn to show off artistic skills later in the patriotic program. Then a group of somber looking youngsters didn’t reply to our repeated greetings at all. In the back of a large concrete building some ladies were hanging up laundry and their happy chatting gained the acoustic upper hand to the slimy speeches that were now dragging their sticky feet far in the distance.

We decided against waiting for the announced string band competition and passed by a food stall on the far end of the football field to purchase refreshments in form of two nicely peeled drinking nuts. A deep fried local donut called ‘kapo’ was tasted alongside. Good for the taste buds it was, but not exactly healthy nutrition. We then set out to walk back towards our home in Lamen Bay in the now scorching midday sun and along the dusty road we met a trickle of additional visitors to the festival who had their timing better arranged than ours.

A couple days later we made the acquaintance of Chief Timothy and his wife, a very friendly couple in charge of Lamen Bay village. They had seen a good bit of the modern world, enough at least to feel soundly rooted in their island homes and gardens. They informed us of a peculiar group of ladies from the Solomon Islands, members of what they described as a marching choir, who had followed the invitation of a local minister to participate in a fundraising event to take place the following day. The chiefly couple had intentions to travel to the neighboring village on the island’s east coast with their children, and we were invited to tag along. Since the Solomon Islands are lying on the planned course of our travels, we were happy to jump on the opportunity of getting a first glimpse at their culture.

On Tuesday afternoon we therefore paddled ashore to our rendezvous with Chief Timothy’s family. A good long bit of island time passed on into eternity until transportation could finally be organized, which left me with lingering doubts about the chiefly authority wielded by our hosts. Once that organizational hiccup had been overcome we hopped onto the back of a growling pickup truck and soon started climbing another rather steep hill. From its top through the billowing clouds of dust raised by the speeding vehicle a splendid view unfolded with white surf crashing shoreward along Epi’s east coast, and in the distance the rugged hills of Paama Island and the even more mysterious 1’400 meters high volcanic cone of Lepovi. The latter sat there majestically shrouded with a sturdy collar of puffy cumulus clouds.

A hair rising decent later we arrived at the village where the festivities were supposed to unfold. We were led to an improvised enclosure, surrounded with a fence of dried palm leaves and bamboo sticks. A small payment was required to enter and we settled down on the lawn amongst our dark faced friends and the ever present pack of bone dry dogs, which received considerable mistreatment by a deranged looking fellow in a rumpled military uniform. This sad character had nothing better to do than sneak up to them and kick them cruelly with his heavy black boots. Part of his sinister motivation must have stemmed from his success in garnering the admiration of the present lady folks, who to my amazement cheered him up with their supportive exclamations. It always sends shivers down my spine to see these manifestations of adoration for the spectacle of violence, so very much engrained in the fabric of the human mind.

Maneuvering past the distraction of this rudely intruding reality a group of local youth stood in the center of the arena nicely divided into rows of separate genders. The boys in jeans and the girls in black knee-long skirts soon started to bounce about to the menacing rhythms of techno sounds overlaid with robotic intonations of a clever rendition of purely Presbyterian doctrine. The boys were moving with considerable enthusiasm, while the girls seemed quite obviously subdued, executing the same routines with only a fraction of the kinetic energy of their testosterone driven peers. In between the performances accounts were given as to the present state of the events fundraising, the climbing numbers promptly being applauded with somber reverence.

After a good while of more and more of the same the main number of the evening was finally approaching. From behind the audience out of a grass house a single column of ladies emerged, all dressed in impeccable white robes bordered delicately with fine red accent lines. They wore speckless white shoes and matching white socks and had their hair tied up in very compact buns. They marched gracefully into the center of the arena, where the one single column split up into four parallel ones, all while marching in perfect synchronization. Once arrived at the center a first hymn was chanted, accompanied now not only by the steadily stomping feet, but also by rhythmic tapping of a stick against a wooden block each of the ladies held in their hands. At the end of that stick a pompom like whip of colored strings protruded, which danced frivolously in the wind to the monotone pulsations of the song. The marching never stopped and the columns turned in different directions, which resulted in elaborate maneuvers, the choir constantly changing its formation, sometimes in the shape of a square, then transforming into a circle, before becoming a moving rectangle. At the end of each number the marching stopped and the choir received a short applause, but almost immediately continued to intone another song. The performance went on for a considerable amount of time, sadly without much variety in the presentation. About half way through it all the director, a stern, straight backed lady with an imposing forehead, grabbed the microphone and provided an explanation for what the different colors of the whips were meant to symbolize. The red color of the Lord Jesus’ blood was duly mentioned as was the white purity of the believer who has accepted Him in his heart. The green belonged to a more universal grammar and simply stood for hope, while the yellow had again a liturgical connotation, as it stands for the gold bestowed on him who has received the gospel (sic!).

epi - 1The quite obviously good hearted lady soldiers made their way through more and more numbers and I started to suspect that they were repeating the same song over and over. Before I was able to definitely ascertain my suspicion the darkness of dusk began to approach and the final number won the hearty applause of relief. With that the marching choir maneuvered its way out of the public eye. The time had come to start the return journey with our hosts. This again included copious amounts of dust ending up in our lungs along the way. It turned out that this transport once again, in agreement with Vanuatu ‘kustom’ I must suppose, ended up costing a small fortune of money. One is never quite sure, if one is being ripped off or if things really can be that expensive around here.

To sum it up, the strange island of Epi had provided us with two rampant manifestations of indoctrination, the first of the political kind, the second of the so called spiritual realm. Those two must work together, quite clearly with many other poorly hidden strings that behind the scenes of daily living pull the human being through a slump of reactionary sadness, where social injustice and exploitation are allowed to freely flourish and corruption continues to solidify the status quo. Could it be then that most of our misery, economical and emotional, is actually self-inflicted? Is it possible that the key to solving the riddle of human slavery, which continues to thrive unabated into the very heart of modernity, instead of having to do with a dark and somber ‘system’ that clips the innocent wings of our freedom, consists in breaking the chains of my very own attachment to things like comfort and security?

Erromango

July 14, 2016

Our visit to this fascinating island was cut short by a menacing weather forecast. We would have loved to stay a bit longer but Dillon’s Bay on its southwestern corner is a funnel wide open to the West. This provided us with spectacular sunsets and surprisingly calm waters protected from the mighty swells of the trade winds doing their furious dance just around the corner. At the end of an enjoyable downwind turn from Tanna we rounded the rugged limestone cliffs of Ontovin Point and sailed into completely flat waters propelled solely by gentle williwaws tumbling down from the green wooded mountain ranges. At the bottom of the bay the Williams River had carved out a narrow valley into the raised coral plateau and nowadays spills its fresh water into the salty sea flanked by two terribly unattractive grey shingle beaches. Behind the northern beach lies the township with the exotic sounding name of Unpongkor, where a good portion of the islands entire population of just over two thousand souls must be residing.

erromango - 1That number had been mentioned to us by Thomas, whom we met on our stroll along the verdant banks of the William’s River and into its winding valley, where cool waters licked dark round stones that most certainly must provide good housing opportunities for tasty crayfish. He was coming towards us from the other side of the river and was now balancing his bundle of freshly peeled sticks on his left shoulder, while his wife followed shortly behind with a good load of palm fronds on her head. Even the youngster in tow was loaded with materials for what Thomas described as the “new grass house” they were about to add to their property in town. “We’re better off here on Erromango”, he rambled on once he had forded the river on the row of boulders protruding from the flowing waters, referring to the considerably lower population of his island compared with its southern neighbor. Tanna is listed as one of the most heavily populated of all the Vanuatu islands. Its surface area might be a good third smaller, while its population is listed as just under 29’000 in the 2009 census. “Over there you can’t just go out into the bush and start your very own little garden,” he now elaborated on his reasoning, “every spot is already taken! Here there is still space. But if you go up north, it gets even worth.”

We continued chatting for a good quarter of an hour about this and that, returning again and again to man’s need for land to feed himself and his family. Rural Ni-Vanuatu work intensely in their gardens, as we had just seen along our way, where we had admired nicely manicured plantations of manioc, taro, yam, banana, papaya, sugar cane and even corn, lettuce and other veggies. Here and there a machete wielding youngster would look up shortly and wave a friendly hello before returning with vigor to his work. That ancient work that will fill his and his family’s bellies and with a good bit of luck also nurture their happiness for generations to come.

By the time our important conversation had exhausted common courtesy and Thomas was eager to continue his return to an expanding homestead, we realized that the sun must be setting soon and there was no sense in going on along the narrow footpath on the other side of the river. It would have lead us further into this land of subsistence farming up into a densely wooded interior. On our way back to our precariously floating home we stopped at the school grounds on the upper end of town and visited principal Bobby, who has a good two hundred students under his wings at the local secondary school. We proposed to him to do two performances of our little show with songs of the world. Half of that promise we would unfortunately not be able to keep, as that same evening when consulting the weather forecast a trough crossing the horn of Australia’s Northwest promised westerly winds coming towards us over the coming weekend. This meant that our tranquil anchorage could easily turn into a nasty roller coaster.

So we were able to do only a single performance the following day at the school and shortly thereafter the last light of the day saw us weighing anchor and depart for what was meant to be an overnight passage towards Efate, Vanuatu’s central island, where on just about the same area as Erromango a staggering 66’000 people live and love. A misjudged strategy trapped us in the fluky lee of the island, where we were bobbing up and down with sagging sails all night. It was not until the afternoon of the following day that finally the hazy outlines of our new destination materialized from behind a dark grey squall line. During that long and lonesome night I had also discovered that our navigation lights were out of commission. The thought of entering busy Port Vila Harbor at night in stealth mode did therefore not particularly appeal to me. A quick glance at the Navionics chart on our iPad revealed a tiny anchor symbol printed at the very bottom of a mile and a half deep bay along Efate’s southern coast. That bay seemed just barely reachable after sunset at our present speed.

erromango - 2Without further due we entered Teouma Bey just as an orange fiery globe was setting in the West. We dropped the hook in barely five meters of water, off a brown sand beach and night fell around us. Looking around in the twilight to confirm the holding of our newly set anchor I realized a couple of rocks sticking out of the water between us and beach I had not noticed previously. On a closer look there were plenty more, much closer by and soon I saw them all around us. And holy molly, those things were actually moving and coming straight towards us! I jumped back to the cockpit and grabbed the flashlight. A narrowly focused cone of bright light danced nervously on the dark waters and what just a second ago was menacing rocks revealed itself as bundles of floating green leaves with wilted white flowers dipping lazily in the wet. But it was not until the next morning the full script of this rather disconcerting spectacle unraveled.

There happens to be a river mouth at the end of the bay. When the rising tide makes its entry into the meandering flats of the outflowing river behind the dunes of sand, it washes out junks of a leafy vegetable growing along the banks and then flushes them out into the bay. The whole show happens in one brief moment and is over in a couple minutes. It just so happened that we had dropped our anchor at that precise moment in time and space.

There were times not so long ago when man would listen up whenever the gods were speaking and adjust his life accordingly! And we did sleep divinely and like a rock that night.

erromango - 3

The Rest of the Story

April 16, 2016

Well, finally a rainy day! With it a break from the pleasurable task of sanding. And some time to tell you the remainder of our re-initiation into sailing. Where did I leave you last time? Oh, that’s right: tied up to our slender hook in Tutukaka Harbor with the menace of an approaching double front upon us. The wind was howling throughout the night, throughout the next day and into the following night with sheets of rain riding happily and horizontally in it. But Friday morning awoke to sunshine and promises of gentle winds. Up went the big main sail and once out of the harbor it opened up to catch a fickle Nor’Westerly. It was forecast to turn Southwest later in the day, so we again threw some crushed dinosaur hay into the mix, especially as we got closer to the grandiose sight of the Whangarei Heads, were glassy seas confirmed that we would be bobbing up and down the still substantial northeast swell without it.

With a little bit too much confidence we rounded the headland and got slapped in the face with rather stiff headwinds. The promised Southwesterly had apparently been hiding behind the jagged crests! We didn’t need no further trouble, so quickly decided to take the big mainsail down and continue tacking into the wind with the smaller one. It was a tough two miles until we reached the channel markers guiding us like many a big tanker ship before us into the vast Whangarei Harbor. Luckily none of those big tanker ships were out and about at the time, so we could freely wander about without having to worry about traffic separation lanes. We did pass two of them docked sternly at the refinery piers in front of a multitude of round petrol reservoirs on the southern banks of the river just past the extensive sandbar that delimits the western banks of the harbor entrance. This system of sandy shallows is built from huge amounts of sediments that get swept in and out of the submerged valley twice every day to the lunar rhythm of the tides.

From the river mouth up to the town basin in the heart of downtown Whangarei it is a good 15 miles and the sun was by now close to setting. Our haul-out appointment was not until Wednesday the following week, so no need to enter too much into the entrails of civilization just yet. On the charts I had seen a nice little bay about half way up the harbor that seemed perfect for relaxing a couple days.

 

Parua Bay turned out to be the perfect choice for doing just that: a shallow expanse of protected waters with plenty of possibilities to explore the lands around it. After a quiet first night at anchor our attention turned to Motukiore Island in the lee of which we had dropped our hook. Coming into the bay I had noticed on its southern tip a bare hill with the telltale pyramidal terracing of a Maori pa, or hilltop fort.

panorama of whangarei harborLittle Alunita splashed into the green waters and we paddled to the island’s southwestern tip, where we found a sand spit extending from the island to the mainland, making it possible to walk back and forth. This terrestrial connection however was fast disappearing before our eyes, being submerged by the incoming tide. A big wooden sign above the high water mark made it clear to us, that there were no more warriors defending their communities up on the hill we were about to climb. Today the island is managed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

paruabay - 4

Modern man makes a big deal out of conserving the ancient traditions he has abandoned carelessly all along his stern march towards a live far from his natural origin in the illusion of comfort through isolation. He thinks that by putting the lifeless remains of his fast fading history in a jar like the yearly preserves of seasonal fruits, he will be able to extend his disjointed existence to future generations.

paruabay - 1

Standing on top of the terraced pyramid the view was splendid, reaching far and the ability to spot any mischievous intruder long before having a chance to set fire to protective palisades on the bottom of the hill was as obvious as the lofty overview I had of the vast expanse of round reservoirs and smoke spewing chimneys inland of the sand spit at the harbor mouth, where massive amounts of the same petrol we have been carelessly burning inside the explosion chamber of our tiny outboard to be able to drive our double canoe into the winds are refined from crude liquid tars shipped half way around the globe in fragile containments across the planets oceans. From this refinery we’ve heard that the cleansed liquid fire is then pumped underground to distribution points all across this tiny nation at the bottom of the world, keeping its transportation frenzy rumbling to the menacing ticks of the ecological time bomb that this same modern man with his frivolous fancy for tradition is frantically pushing towards walls of threatening self-annihilation.

The wild warriors of the pre-European past of Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, must have felt a similar conflict within their crumbling societies, where neighbors had turned to enemies, and many times brawn ruled cruelly over milder brains, so much so that defense of material and territorial possessions became the prominent priority of man’s endeavors.

paruabay - 2

Waking from these nightmarish reflections about my species, a gentle breeze swept across the squared platform I was standing on and a yellow headed gannet soared up the slope on rising air, circled supremely overhead and then took off towards the East, scanning the waters below it for suitable food, which quite evidently must have been put there without much effort of its part. Despite the precision and aggression of its hunting life it has not ventured yet into the abyss of systemic destruction. There must be a way that we can relearn the proper part to play in this drama of constant creation. And I have not the minor doubt that it must start somewhere in the fickle jungle of self-control.

The Maori’s palisades have proven useless; nature has removed them without a trace. I walked freely down the narrow and lightly trodden path in the knee-high grass that nowadays smoothens the angled gradient of the pa’s earthen mound. Finally, a small jump brought me across a meter-wide ditch back to the more rounded form of the naturally sculpted hill, where human hands had only dared to graze their cattle, and certainly New Zealand’s proverbial sheep, in a more recent history of European administrative efficiency, and little by little the horizon of the far beyond sank beneath the surrounding hills around the little bay, where our floating home had decided to anchor for the night.

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The Glaciers Are Melting

August 22, 2015

Change often times is invisible to our eyes. If it happens very slow, or very fast for that matter, we cannot perceive it visually and we have to apply our mental faculty of remembering visual impressions and recreate them after a little bit of time. This overlay of memory onto the ongoing present impressions allows us to compare, evaluate the differences and reason about the causes. It is all a complicated and highly artificial procedure. However since we have begun this nasty habit of inventing machines we have used them to the purpose of “slowing down time”, and the illusions produced by that illustrate movements that would not naturally be visible to the eye.

I found an example of this curious mental activity just recently after an enjoyable visit to the Aletsch Glacier in the Walliser Alps. Beatriz had never seen a glacier in her life, having grown up in the mountain ranges of the tropics, where such natural phenomena are very few and far between. It would clearly be unforgivable to leave Switzerland as we will be doing soon without allowing her the joy of witnessing such a sight. Langenthal’s Gemeindeverwaltung conveniently sells decently priced railway day passes. With them one travels for an entire day anywhere on the dense network of the Swiss Federal Railway from midnight to midnight. We had two of them in our pockets when we stumbled to the Langenthal train station one recent Monday morning shortly before sunrise. I was still on vacation and not very happy about such an early start of the day. But we have duly assimilated the sacred duty of Swiss efficiency. We wanted to squeeze the last drop of advantage from our passes!

The train soon had us glide through mesmerizing landscapes, first amongst the gently rolling hills of the central Swiss Plateau with the rounded ranges of the Jura Mountains to the North enchanting our slowly opening eyes. Eons ago there were enormous glaciers grinding over this Plateau and for my trained eye it didn’t take much work to see results of that in the shapes of the terrain. After leaving the Medieval Zähringer City of Bern behind we zipped through its little cousin, also carved out of blocks of green grey sandstone: The bilingual fortress of Fribourg. A little later we popped out from a short tunnel and the view opened wide onto the Lac Leman, where a gentle breeze was drawing rhythmic ripples on the deep blue waters. Still travelling at a breakneck speed the valley of the Wallis swallowed us and before we knew it we were approaching its narrowing origin up amongst the snow-capped ranges of the Alps. But before we reached it, it was time to step off the speeding bullet we had been riding on.

Since having lived on the wavy ocean waters for extended periods of time I suffer from bouts of vertigo when standing on obviously elevated locations, and I was a bit weary to step into the tiny cabin of the cable car that was about to lift us up along the steep walls of the upper Wallis valley. But it all went without a hitch and before we knew it we were at the dizzying elevation of 2’800 Meters looking down on the other side of a jagged crest onto the mighty dirt white tongue of the longest glaciers in the European Alps.

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I have been serving up this harmless travel itinerary to be able to make a point. When you look at this colossal mass of ice lying at the bottom of the winding valley, you can’t help but remember what some good-hearted geography teacher has tried to trickle into the fast diminishing curiosity of my youth: That water even in its solid aggregate state continues to follow gravity’s call and flows downhill, albeit at a very minimal speed. Experts talk about an average speed of the Aletsch Glacier’s ice flow just shy of half a meter a day. As impressive as this sounds, and as spectacular the thought experiments I twist my mind into turn out to be, the fact is that this motion is below what can be perceived by our eyes. The phenomenon remains invisible to us and our believing it can only be based on induction. Unless… Unless we use our machines!

Time-lapse photography used to be a cumbersome process, to be realized exclusively with specialized high tech cameras. Nowadays the almighty computer has brought this clever trickery to the nosy fingertips of the common denizen. But to do it well, a mature and solid craft is needed as much as ever. Just imagine that you have to position your camera in a protected position, where it can live safely for a considerable amount of time, while it takes an automated sequence of pictures. I wanted to understand the basic challenges of this craft so I tried my luck on my irresistible fascination with the spectacle of cloud formation. Watching the resulting video sequence I was immediately able to grasp a motion critical to the understanding of weather dynamics: the spiraling rotation of the air mass around a horizontal axis lying in line with the direction of its flow.

Another dizzying ride on the cable car had brought us back down onto the valley floor and our train exploit continued up the Goms, Obergoms, through the Furka Base Tunnel, down to Andermatt and Göschenen, past the clean and yet virgin entrance to the latest monumental engineering feat of the Swiss, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, where giant machines have bored their way under 50km of alpine granite, down along the Eastern arm of the Lake Lucerne towards the city that lends her name to this lake, and finally back home to our nondescript little town of Langenthal. Soon after I sat in front of my laptop researching without any particular aim the glacier we had just visited and feasted our eyes upon. The first thing I stumbled upon gave me a totally new understanding of the challenging dilemma of global warming:

Switzerland, Aletsch Glacier 1 (Greenpeace) 2007
c-print mounted between plexi
h: 48 x w: 60 in / h: 121.92 x w: 152.4 cm

Once recovered from that act of self-celebration I hit the intellectual jackpot with a splendidly crafted time-lapse sequence of the long and winding Aletsch Glacier tongue on the move. Just what I had been looking for! And I hope you agree, it makes visible the invisible and let’s the beauty return from the shady realm of the logically reasoning intellect into the clear and transparent eye of the beholder!

http://www.raize.ch/Berge/Diverses/Webcam_Eggishorn.htm

 

PS: As you might notice below, Beatriz suffered from a bout of enhanced spirituality during her first encounter with the glacier tongue!

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As Black As A Crow

July 19, 2015

I should have put some captions on the pictures of my last post to clarify their ornamental and explain their non-contextual function. First of all they showed a further sampling of my project to document the subtle transformation of the landscape in front of my office with a view, compliment of our adventure of living normality in an every man’s flat in the heartland of Switzerland. Then you were able to witness the many curious faces of a sunflower field plus some sights of my work related out of town stints with my students: the peaceful morning view over Lago Maggiore from Locarno and the burning midday sun over the Piazza del Duomo in Milan. I guess my wish was to share with you that little pearl of wisdom, which says that looking without knowing is very much closer to seeing, and certainly a good bit healthier than knowing without looking.

My office with a view is a very stable point of view and I have become in many ways a full-fledged member of normality. This would certainly be a scary think to look in the eye, were it not for the tranquilizing fact that there is a time limit imposed on this adventure of all adventures. Its end is now slowly coming in sight. Our rental agreement with the property management firm administering the three apartment towers at the Waldhofstrasse is coming to an end on September 30, where we will once again disengage from a sizeable chunk of ordinary life, rid ourselves of the thousand pieces of accumulation that inevitably happens where the external has to compensate for extinct internal riches and (finally!) get moving again. On September 18 I should have (finally!) fulfilled my contractual duties with the Education Department of the Kanton Bern, and the first days of the merry month of October will see us hoping across the Atlantic Ocean for a stopover in the Caribbean to get a first hand impression of the tireless works my good friends a the Kido Planet are doing. Then there should be time for a quick family visit in Colombia, before finishing our premature circumnavigation of the globe by jet planning down to the slim coastal stretch of Chili, from where the big pond of the Pacific will pass below our feet to end up at the beginning of the austral summer back aboard our trusted home and travel vehicle Aluna.

In the meantime another phenomenon of the Swiss airspace has caused ripples in my attention. It happens to take place the lower regions of the Helvetic atmosphere and it is of the opposite color when compared to the angelical white appearances described in last weeks post. As you will see it also lives closer to home and has caught the ever-vigilant eyes of the guardians of orderliness in this country’s highly structured public realm.

It’s the rooks, my friends! My friends, the rooks! They have been growing in numbers and hugely expanded their presence since I last lived here. And they sure are an unruly bunch! From our human perspective with its fast and thoughtless judgments their abrasive call feels vulgar, offensive, rude, almost barbaric or at the very least bad-tempered and ill humored. It generates anything else but sympathy.

These birds sharp intelligence on the other hand we cannot help to admire. They are tool-savvy and clear-sighted. You’ll find them ever attentive and hardly ever you can catch them off guard. But their survival strategy seems to serve a ruthless pack mentality and their blackness is on the verge of turning blue. I have never seen them helping anybody else but their own kind and even amongst themselves there seems to be very little in terms of gentleness and a good lot in terms of ruffles and rookies. In fact their unruly reunions while perched dozens strong in the crown of the highest apple tree right around sunset keep many a curious onlooker wondering about the civility of these pitch black avian denizens.

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It is not astonishing then that this invasion of almost film noire dimension might soon disprove those who say that Sir Hitchcock was merely fantasizing when composing his intrinsic scripts. It would certainly approve of those who say that this trail-blazing flick was the fruit of clairvoyant premonition. It doesn’t astonish anybody then that this expansive tendency has been cause for great concern amongst some other two-legged beings: These ones have no feathers! Human beings are after all really order-loving folks and they are very much in charge of their lands. The resident local’s concern about this latest avian invasion has grown consistently along the lines of rook population density and many times there have been calls in the newspapers for outright culling campaigns to reduce the rook’s growing numbers. A short while ago the humble local zoo, Langenthal’s very own “Tierpark”, was granted an official permission to shoot the invaders down one by one, as long as it might be considered necessary! Bigger cities like Bern, where the rooks congregate during the breeding season, have seen legislative motions of their own promoting ways to combat the invasion.

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Intriguing to me is the different reaction of our own kind. When others are invading our space we look to resist the change, while when we invade, and be it our very own space, we promote the change and herald it as healthy growth and progress. And of course, color seems to be important. Had those rooky rooks a couple white feathers in their plumage, like for instance the magpie or the venerable stork, they wouldn’t be looked down upon as much, at least here in the hemisphere dominated by Christian ideologies. But what made this relatively harmless avian theme sizzle in my conscious is its eerie resemblance to the profound human drama presently unfolding around the Mediterranean Sea, where the exodus of African people from the many festering wounds the neoliberal market forces has slashed into that ancient continent hits the wall of the old world, where the European Union’s almost humane sounding dogma of the free movement of persons writes its border line in the sand with considerable force.

I’m not terribly sure where the parallels between the birds and the refugees start and where they end, and I’m extremely tired of discussing things based on the shady reporting and yet darker opinionating in the media, who, left of right, all want us to think in certain ways. What I can second is my good and by now old but by no means weary friend Konstantin Wecker, who said poignantly in a televised interview, that we have to stop looking at the situation through numbers, and see the refugees as human beings. Then they become what they really are, beings like you and me, beings desperate to make ends meet in a desperate world, where, should you allow yourself to stand still, despair will sneak up on you and put you in shackles for good.

And along the same lines and in tune with the proposed purpose of this post, let me sing a song with my friends the rooks, cause my voice sounds just as hoarse as theirs!

Brightly Visible, Yet Unnoticed, Right Above Our Heads

July 12, 2015

It happens every time I watch the sky, and I do try to make a habit of doing that at least once a day. Every time I try to decipher the atmosphere’s present convulsions, every time I’m eager to have my earth bound existence lightened by a somewhat more ample perspective, every time I simply want to enjoy the tranquillising blue haze above me, every time I am struck in awe by the outstanding beauty of ever-changing cloud formations that boil away into the higher atmosphere, every time I do this, I have my view contaminated with the puffy contrails of commercial jets zipping across the sky.

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While I am observing these cloud formations, trying to make sense of their chaotic uniqueness and creating unsuccessful models of the underlying dynamics of boiling air, I am enthralled by their magnificent orderliness. Things seem to happen linear and synchronized in an environment that happily allows for so many perfectly embedded exceptions. But what can all this beauty do when slurry lines of jet exhaust cross it out like marked by a mad teacher’s hand on the blackboard of Mr. Common man?

As you see, I could go on and on while my anger is building, but the bone of contention here, and my point of attack, is that every time I look up at the sky I have my view contaminated with the obnoxious contrails of at least five jets hasting across the sky.

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I might have a tendency every now and then to exaggerate and decorate my thoughts with bloomy ornamentations, rummaging around with rococo rosaries and rattling back and forth with illogical emotional outbursts, but for once there is not the slightest trace of exaggeration in my description! At any given time of day or night, and I guess at any given place in central Europe, when you direct your gaze upwards towards the heavens you will find four to ten jet planes navigating their very linear ways across your visual field from one point of the horizon to the other. They have created a jagged network of white streaks that starts out with the typical linear precision of most modern human intentions, and then slowly washes out with wavy and curvy slithers before ending up in a milky haze, all this of course depending on the degree of turbulence in the upper atmosphere.

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Just to underline my point, let us do some mental gymnastics that will help us understand some of its underlying economics. Imagine an average number of passengers sitting in each airplane. With this you get a vague idea of the sizeable dimension of this petrol burning madness, certainly in terms of resource occupation. Let’s say there are 150 passengers on 10 planes at an average ticket price of 200 Euros. This would make for a whopping 300’000 Euros of economic liquidity cruising the jet streams and emitting puffy featherings of cotton candy condensation from hot exhaust gases from burning highly refined petroleum. If I remember correctly the last time the heavens were for sale, Europe was still wrapped up in the Dark Ages, and some hot-headed monk came upon the brilliant idea of selling real estate in the afterlife! And there it is again, happening right up above our heads! Mankind yet again at its very best, in its latest and greatest act of self-sabotage, seemingly intent to block the very light of the sun, the source of all live, from reaching the surface of the earth?

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But if you thought that such obvious a signal from above would cause general outrage, you see yourself proven wrong by reality. As a matter of fact I seem to be once more one lonely Don Quixote angrily fighting windmills that unfortunately are invisible to my peers. I have yet to meet a person who is equally appalled by this constant attack on our aesthetic considerations. Most everybody shrugs their shoulders when confronted with my angry description of this aerial pollution. Apparently people are either absolutely oblivious or totally accustomed to it.

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It is a daunting question, that nagging wormlike wondering about what to do with the monstrous technological delirium tremens we have maneuvered ourselves into. It literally seems to squeeze the life out of our bones and it pulls that well-treaded rag right out and away from under our feet. All of a sudden we find ourselves free floating with exactly as much insurance coverage as our noble forbearers had, those who lived on the edge of a cliff overlooking the landscape, with only a humid cave as a very limited safe heaven behind them. Has this progress been leading us in the opposite direction we had been promised?

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Just in case you needed a wisdom quote after contemplating such programmed injustice, there’s a wisdom quote to keep you on good tracks:

The King of Love expands about violence

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About Life’s Sweetness and Lack of Attention

June 8, 2015

Writing has definitely not been at the forefront of my activities in the recent weeks, with time flying past my busy mind at breakneck speed. Being a paid official of the state is akin to a marathon runner on a final stretch that never ends. You are given charge of a mandate impossible to fulfil and this frenetic stress has started to take its toll. The situation is compounded by my firm belief in good governance. To me it is obvious that the human being is not a mere mass of isolated individuals with each one of us rummaging about somewhere totally on our own. Social structures grow naturally within the varied groupings we men and women happen to form, and only when some of our members step forward and take upon themselves the responsibility of guiding our tribe towards a brighter future will man be able to meet nature’s strict demands of evolution and improvement. What am I to do as the leader of a small but restless pack of youngsters who in a couple weeks time are pushed over the edge into the abyss of working life?

In order to pay my moral and contractual dues as an educator up to a reasonable standard I find myself involved and absorbed 24/7, making plans, digging around for ideas, analyzing things around me and wondering how to direct the gaze of my distracted pupils towards them, and of course above all and always worrying way too much. Therefore my reporting to you about the ongoing adventure of human existence in the civilized world has become somewhat a separate track in my daily dealings. That track seems to have split away drifting into a parallel universe, with my stretched out legs simply not long enough to bridge the opening gap between here and there.

What I am pretty certain of is that I’m taking my professional responsibilities way too serious. But that is nothing else than the most recent incarnation of a notorious disease running through the genes of my family tree. You have most probably heard me sing a song or two about that before, especially those of you who have known me for a while. I actually don’t mind that trait, without going as far as bragging about it. It provides me with the needed motivation to go on, to continue the push for the impossible, the search for the boundaries of those frenetic mental contortions with which we modern beings try to asphyxiate our very last notion for what is real.

I have now decided that in order to circumvent the grave seriousness of this present situation, which I will have to tackle in the solitude of my own self, I would like to offer you two very valuable distractions for your personal perusal. Lulled in by my lustful lullabies you will be able to still your boundless thirst for stories of adventures delivered to your very own rocking chair.

But first, coming to think of it, there certainly are moments where the dullness of everyday life in small town Switzerland cracks open and reveals outstanding bouts of healthy craziness. This might come across as a bit of a surprise in this land of mantic orderliness, but you will now hear living proof that spontaneity is stronger than the most well-thought-through order imposed upon us by some control freak in the upper stratosphere of human society. It is an incident of the most amusing and refreshing variety I’d like to share with you.

On a recent afternoon, one of the very few lazy ones I got, I am scratching around for some harmonic-sounding riff on my guitar in the living room of our third story flat, when I happen to have a glance out the window onto the facade of the opposite row of apartment blocks. In the windows on the uppermost floor there I usually see the sky reflected. I now happen to see some brightly colored stripes passing across one of them. Those stripes are moving slowly but deliberately but don’t really seem to make sense to my musing mind. I have a pretty good spatial awareness of the world around me and it doesn’t take me long to realize that whatever is causing this illusion in front of me must originate from a place behind me. I put my guitar gently down on the floor and run across the hallway into my office with a view on the other side of the flat. Its window opens out towards the gentle ranges of the Jura Mountains that run along Switzerland’s northwestern border. But before that your gaze has already wandered over a rolling wheat field, a line of crooked apple trees, a hamlet made up of a former bathhouse turned restaurant and sizeable farm of present horse breeders, a colored forest front, and then it loses itself into the darker blues of distant forest-capped hilltops.

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After unlocking the latch and swinging the window inwards I lean out and am treated to a truly unusual sight: Four men come running across this same sprouting grain field holding on to a thick black cord. This cord in turn turns upwards towards the sky in front of them and as it turns out it happens to be tethered to a full-size hot air balloon. The lofty vehicle and the gondola suspended under its mighty belly are rapidly losing height and find themselves on collision course with the first row of our apartment blocks!

From the gondola some bearded bloke with a resemblance of a founding father of some stern nation shouts on top of his lungs and with his cupped hand pressed like Neptune’s conch against his face: “Are there any men down there who could come and help?” He seems to be dazzled by the fast approach of the upcoming obstacle and crisp fear stands etched into his well-pronounced profile. I consider myself to be of sufficient manhood to answer the stranger’s call, run for my phone, fly down the stairs of our building and shoot out of the entrance into the street.

The unusual occurrence had caused people to stop and look heavenwards. I turn East and as I pass the corner of our very rectangular agglomeration, there it is. Suspended in the bright blue sky and hovering above the concrete façades of the Überbauung, the globe had managed to regain some height, pull up its tether and the piloting party is now happily sailing on. A little further down towards the center of town they try their luck again with yet another decent into urban terrain, but obviously once again without success.

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Those two failed attempts in a row must have hurt in their pride enough to finally decide to crank up the heat and get sufficiently aloft where they can search for more favorable winds further up in the atmosphere. What had made those time-travelling aerial adventurers want to steer their giant vessel in full decent towards a populated area in the first place remains something of a mystery to me. I can only guess at a good portion of desperate inexperience, which brings about the question of how that jolly bunch has managed to circumvent the most certainly stringent laws around Swiss aerial sports and take their brave adventurous spirit up towards the clouds. It certainly was something unusual in the monotony of bourgeois everyday life, something I am definitely not seeing in front of my office window every day.

But now on to the two announced distractions: The first one is a sample from my rough and tumble career as a musician, where with earnest discipline and a lot of practicing I’m trying to reach the famed realm of silence through organizing sound. It is a piano piece of the mellower kind, meant to put the active listener at ease with him- or herself. I very much hope you enjoy it. There are plans to put more of my music online within the foreseeable future but I should stop making promises I might not have envy to fulfill.

The second distraction is a true and worthy substitute for my own lack of literary consistency. I’d like you to go and visit the blog of a man who stands at the very beginning of his journey as a wanderer of the watery earth. He happens to have spent the last eight years tucked away in a building shed somewhere in moist and atmospherically mostly miserable Southern England, preparing the great exodus from a way of life run awful and awry. Just these last days he has finally left his homeland for good and if his first report from under way is any indication, it will be a great delight for all of us armchair sailors to follow him on his mission to go beyond the horizons of normality! Neil, may your journey be mighty and revealing, and may your life be long enough to tell the tale!

Since I never seem to be able to stick to the plan, here’s a third distraction to top of the two I had announced. Should you be interested in what the two of us do here on a regular basis, Beatriz is much better in reporting how we actually spend our time here in my homeland, and her view is of course spiced up by her exotic stance as an outsider coming in: Switzerland viewed through Colombian eyes! For all those of you whose face has joined the book you can subscribe your vivid interest to her account and click on all possible likes to your carpal tunnel’s delight! (Apparently you need to be logged into fb for these links to work!)

Long Distance Worry

March 24, 2015

If one happens to call oneself a writer one should be able to, I guess, produce something on command, and there certainly is by now an urgency for publishing some sea-travelling related content to keep this blog alive. I better sit down, pay my dues and do my chores. Chores, which I have fallen into the nasty habit of asking my students to do at least a couple of times every single day. It would most certainly be a pity should our readership be led to believe that the adventurous story of Aluna’s travels has come to a screeching halt!

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Over the vast grain fields that stretch out in front of my office window at the outskirts of the sturdy township of Langenthal, between our apartment building and the neatly manicured row of buildings of the school up on that gently rolling hill where I go to work every day, three raptors are circling elegantly under the milk-grey sky. Their high-pitched calls enter our cube-shaped living space with a message of ancient and timeless aerial domain. They might be buzzards, although their forked tails make me tend more towards the red kite, which I have heard has displaced the previously endemic raptors I remember from my youth. The three gliders are the latest discovery in my diligent observations of the manifold processes of nature awaking from the monotone deep freeze of northern hemisphere winter. I imagine that their interest must lie in the busy stirrings of life down on the surface between the growing foliage of the sprouting stems of winter grain. Rodents of the smaller sizes must be improving earthworks there to adjust their subterranean homes to the by now definitely above zero temperatures. But there is also a careful choreography of soaring turns noticeable between the three of them where distances are kept and territories guarded. The run for the coming bounty of spring is measured by a very reasonable and well-reasoned distribution.

While here on a latitude of just over 47˚ N spring has been established beyond any doubts, in the Southern hemisphere the cyclone season is closing in on its peak. Last week no less than four cyclones were simultaneously putting up their forceful dance in the eastern ends of the Pacific. One of them especially packed a punch and was hitting a bit too close to home for our creature comfort.

While Cyclone Pam wrecked havoc on the island chain of Vanuatu, stripping the leaves off trees, flattening vast villages, obliterating entire human existences and generally leaving no stone unturned with angry lashings of its fierce 300km/h winds, it became clear that once it was going to be done with all that devil’s work it had to turn its eye with a very clear definition in the direction of New Zealand, where our Aluna gently rocks fastened to a mooring ball after having survived one whole winter without too much of wear and tear. And what is one to do if nature threatens to throw a major disaster at ones treasured property that just happens to be rather far away, something like on the other side of the earth? Can one grow a pair of hyper-long arms that extend around the globe and snap the vulnerable vehicle away from the approaching menace just in time to avoid its deadly blast?

With today’s digital surveillance of our every environment we have obtained the privilege to sit like our very own private version of god up in the heavens and watch the situation unfold below us from a very safe distance. And of course there are these never-ending predictions. The weather people with their machines always seem to have things under control. For once, fortunately for us, they had done their job well enough to predict the correct development of monster storm Pam with astonishing precision. Cyclone Pam was heading for colder waters and with that straight into its doom. But the enormous amount of energy accumulated over time in its spiral movement had to be spent and it continued to pack a serious punch. Pretty soon in the game the forecast models all agreed, that Lady Pam’s navel would miss the northern tip of New Zealand and pass well off to the east. Still its roaring arms continued to develop winds of hurricane strength and some of those were going to tickle the East Coast, if not up north then most certainly toward the North Island’s belt line where the country’s westernmost extremity jots out into the South Pacific Ocean like a spike on a spindle dry desert rose.

We do have to thank the universe for the privilege of having made some good and sturdy friends during our visits to Aotearoa. They keep an eye on our floating travelling home while it slumbers quietly and while it patiently awaits the eventual return of its blissful occupants. So should the worst ever come to happen, well, maybe it won’t be avoided, but at least we would come to know about it without major delays and could initiate a string of suitable actions. And while we are busy thanking the universe, there is that burning question about what it might be that steers those ephemeral atmospheric phenomena? Who sits there and reckons benevolently: Well, let’s spare these guys for this time, let them get away with if for now and steer the thing just a bit to the left, will ya? For the time being I think we have wrecked havoc enough up there in the lower latitudes.

While our misfortunate brothers and sisters in Vanuatu are picking up the million pieces into which their humble homes have shattered, we are on the side of the fortunate whose accumulated wealth has been spared the imminent destruction of our ever-moody Mother Nature. Watch the following loop of a lonely weather satellite’s sequence of observations very carefully; I have been known to do it for long stretches of time without ever getting bored. You will see the determined dynamics of life in their chaotic beauty spreading across the vast spherical space below you. You will catch the intricate and highly elaborate patterns of heat exchange turbulence weaving hedges on your visual cortex enough to make you lose your sure footed certainty with dizzying determination.

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See how dramatically once the storm crosses the path of the screaming jet streams that meander at high altitudes around the globe at the latitudes of the tropics, it gets its top blown off and literally turned to shreds. Thereafter it puffs at a much much lower frequency with what seem like a broken heart. Fact is, the system practically came to halt once it had slowed enough to transform into a typical tight low-pressure system of the roaring forties. It stood still for almost two days more just to the Southeast of New Zealand’s East Cape before finally heading out for its waggling journey across the Southern Ocean.

One of the soaring red kites, one of those three in front of my office window over the fields of sprouting winter grain has dived down toward the tilled field and his claws snapped something from the surface. The peace is broken and for a moment tumult takes charge. A hot pursuit ensues with highly skilled acrobatic maneuvering. The catch seems to be too small for sharing. But soon it also becomes too small for throwing any more energy and enthusiasm at it. The two peers of the lucky hunter let him get away and have its minute meal in relative peace atop a skeleton tree with almost bursting buds, where a verdant explosion of foliage is about to unfold. They calmly and serenely return to their artful circles of lustful vigilance up under the by now brilliant afternoon sky of spring. And that spring has just sprung from a premature Easter egg no longer hidden, no longer shackled by the crystals of winter’s frozen frost.

It is good to be alive and partake in the awakening. The songbirds are returning from their long journey south across the snowcapped mountains. Spring flowers spread vibrant colors across the many manicured lawns and meadows. The days grow longer, the shadows shorter and change is as usual not very far away from our paths. Some unforeseen circumstances with my work are pushing our return to New Zealand back further into the future, which lets it slide very close to or maybe already trespass the cutoff-point set by the onset of the austral winter, where a departure from the land of the flag with the Southern Cross with our small sailing vessel could easily transform into a major undertaking in need of a very great portion of luck. After almost a full year now living huddled at the bosom of civilization with such luxuries as a bathtub with unlimited hot water and bubble bath a la discretion, we might no longer be willing to lend our lives to such risky and rowdy behavior and will have to decide if it won’t be better to let another seasonal cycle pass before heading out. Could this be the wisdom of age gaining traction against youth’s despair, or has the spirit of adventure allowed itself to weaken? I’d cautiously say, let’s not be too judgmental here and lets let things run their natural course. Those things, by the way, should most certainly clarify sufficiently within the next couple weeks to come to feasible conclusions and make suitable decisions. Boredom might just spring from knowing too much of what the future will bring!