by O Bod
Finally, Nero's new theory is ready to take on the world! But is it really new?
Of All Places
Sometimes it's the Journey
Chapter 8: Lox, anyone? (cont.)
White Sand or Black?
At Caribou I board the ferry for the 75-minute ride to PEI, famous for its fine white-sand beaches on its southern shore, or its course black-sand beaches on its northern shore, if that's what you prefer. There is even a town called 'White Sands', where I found a nice lobster restaurant, complete with candlelight and soft music. I'm beginning to feel lonely. At the next table there are a couple of middle-aged guys having a good laugh over something. One of them has a kind of Indian look, with silvery long hair and a bowler hat, though his face is not quite Indian, maybe mixed. I decide it is time to mingle with the natives, stay at some local place, get the inside scoop of this island. I pick up some pamphlets on the way out. I won't stay at an isolated campground tonight.
After lunch I spend some time on the beach, and find that the sand there is indeed white. I like that. Somebody says that I should go to the northern beaches - not as good for swimming, but it has rocks and seaweed and horses and ruggedness. They call the seaweed Irish Moss, and they use it for thickening foods like ice cream and salami.
As for the lodging option, I look at the pamphlets again, and choose the first one, which simple reads 'room for rent, homey location' with a faded picture of a 3-story wooden house in the background. I ask directions and drive to the outskirts of town, where they point me to the MacDonald residence. Knocking on the door, I am surprised it is answered by the same silver, long-haired guy from the restaurant I saw earlier.
If You Can't Join Them ...
"You renting rooms?" I inquire.
He stands in the doorway, inspecting me for a while. "You alone?" he asks.
"Hmmm. Do you mind sleeping in a tent? My kids are all home with me now, from their various mothers. I can set you up under that tree there."
I look where he is pointing. "That a pear tree?"
"Oh, right. Don't mind them."
"Come inside. I'm Joe - we're having tea now."
I am introduced to the kids, of which there are five, aged around 18 down to 1. Four girls and a boy.
"These all yours?"
"Yup. From three different mothers."
"Wow. How do you keep track?"
"I name them in alphabetical order."
"Who, the kids or the mothers?"
"The kids, or course". Then he looks thoughtful. "But you're right. That's what I should do: Meet women in alphabetical order. Too late for that now - maybe next time around."
I'm not sure if he is joking or not. "So you believe in reincarnation and all that?"
"Nah. Have some tea - it's our own home-grown herbal brew ".
I sit and pour myself some. I think I smell cinnamon.
"But tell me," my host continues, "Could I pass for a Native American?"
"Could have fooled me. Then again, if you said you were a pygmy aboriginal, I'd believe you, too".
"I'm three sixteenths Indian."
"Oh, how so?"
"My maternal grandmother. Her father was Micmac and her mother half that. The rest of my ancestors were white."
"Father wants to go native", his eldest says suddenly. "The look, clothes, food, philosophy - the whole bit".
"Except that he doesn't have a clue what a Native American is supposed to be like," the boy adds.
"I'm getting there, give me some time".
"Isn't your family name MacDonald, though?"
"We're going to call him Chief Macmicmac," the middle one says.
"Has a nice ring to it," I admit.
"You see," Joe continues, "they used to rip on me when I was a kid because of my name. 'Do you have a cow? EIEIO'. Some kids who didn't know how to spell would ask if I can give them a Big Mac. And when I told them of my Indian background, that didn't help either. Anyway, I'm past all that now. I'm ready to face it all. Start a farm, be an Indian, even considering getting into the fast-food business."
"You want to open a McDonalds here?"
"No, no, no. They're evil, at least I think so. My idea is based on Native American foods. Instead of a beef-burger on a white-wheat bun, we'd offer a buffalo-burger on a corn-bread bun. Or maybe we should keep it meat-free, a veggie-type place, with barley, kasha and fresh vegetables. Haven't decided yet. In any case, I'll have to consult what is considered native. Do you think the restaurants should be wigwam-shaped, or is that overdoing it?"
"Sounds like a winner. What do you want to call it?"
"Don't know. Maybe something in Micmac that means 'place were silly people spend money for quick gratification'".
I am thoughtful. "Is there really such a thing as a buffalo-burger?"
"Sure, though technically we're talking about bison here, of course."
"Where do you think I can get one of those?"
"In the nature preserves, of course, as ironic as that may sound. I once got a buffalo burger at Yellowstone Park, and I'm told that one can get an elephant burger at Kruger Park. That's in South Africa, you know."
Chapter 9: Two Islands
A kiwi can mean 3 things, I learned: The little black flightless bird that I am looking at now (that's the original kiwi), a small fruit, brown on the outside and green with black seeds on the inside (the kiwi fruit, I found out, actually came from China and was originally called "Chinese gooseberry"), and kiwi is also the nickname for somebody from New Zealand. It's a good thing they had a stuffed kiwi bird here at the museum, as I'd probably never meet one in the wild, not so much because they are rare and shy (they are both) but because they are nocturnal and very dark-colored, almost black - hard to spot them at night. Kiwi birds, I learned incidentally, come in 3 varieties: The small spotted kiwi, the greater spotted kiwi, and the classic brown kiwi. That's the one on shoe-polish tins.
The museum in Auckland also has a section on reptiles. One of the displays shows one of those evolution trees, and the 5 families of reptiles. I would have guessed the snake, lizard and alligator families, and with a little prodding perhaps also the turtles. But, no, I never heard of the tuatara, and even looking at the stuffed one under the glass I'm not sure what makes it so special. Isn't that an iguana? But something about the teeth makes it special. It is not a lizard, after-all. It is a very special animal, New Zealand's answer to rival Australia's platypus. It is the pride and joy of the Kiwis (well, after the kiwi, of course). I keep on reading the captions in the tuatara display-case, and then something catches my eye - the word sex. Somehow this word always seems to jump at you, and may cause all kinds of physiological effects, such as a jump in blood pressure or a faster heartbeat. Even though in this case, at least, it is purely scientific: "The sex of Tuataras is decided by soil temperature around the eggs," The caption reads. "Warm soil causes males, cool soil leads to females. Other reptiles show this peculiarity too (crocodiles, turtles)." For an instant I think I know the answer to the demise of the dinosaurs, but then a whiff of fresh coffee leads my nose (and the rest of me) to the nearby cafeteria, and this theory is lost to mankind... For while coffee may be the fodder mathematicians turn into theorems, it seems to have the opposite effect on me. As I alternate between sipping my brew and nibbling happily at my cake, I sink into a tranquil state of mind, and totally forget what I was doing before-hand. There is a tourist magazine lying on the table near me which I start to leaf through, and I totally forget my thoughts on reptiles. I stop at an article about the history of pizza. The base of the pizza, the doughy part, it transpires, may have originated from the Jewish Matzah, which the Romans encountered when they occupied Israel. Or it may be based on Greek flat bread, or the soldiers may have fashioned it by baking it over their shields. But whatever the base is based on, the records show that the Mozzarella cheese came from the Asian water buffalo, and the tomatoes from South America. Still, if all the Italians did was put it all together, they still deserve credit for making it the dish it is.
The museum closes at five, and I head back outside, to a sunken area they call "The Domain", which is really an extinct volcano. I won't spend too much time in Auckland. Big cities (even though this one isn't that big, it is still the largest in New Zealand) make me anxious.
North of North
I decide to hitch north from Auckland, and after only several minutes of standing by the roadside a small car stops. Tom is the name of the driver, and he looks like a character right out of a Jack London novel, white beard and all.
"Which way you heading?" I inquire.
"Wherever the wind takes me. And you?"
Tom is retired, and passes his time by taking off in his car, camping equipment inside, and just going someplace for a few days, and talking with strangers. "I also like to hang out at the airport", he says, "especially the arrivals hall, where everybody meets up with their loved ones with hugs and kisses."
We set a course for Oponini, on the west coast, named after Opo the dolphin who played with local children in the 50's. On the way we stop by a small glen of Kauri trees, which seem as big as we California Redwoods. Tom says they use the gum (resin) to make varnish and linoleum, while the tall, straight timber is used for ship-masts.
Soon the road becomes bumpy, and Tom mumbles "metal road".
"What does that mean?" I ask.
"Oh, you'd probably say 'in need of repair' or something like that. And for 'judderbars' you probably say 'humps' or 'speed bumps'. I hear you also say 'body-shop' for panel-beaters, which sounds funny to us", and he chuckles.
"Are we going swimming there?"
"Plan to. Hope you brought your togs and jandals, or swimmers and thongs for you. Or it is bathingsuit and flipflops?"
It is delightful driving though the wooded byways of northern New Zealand, with no destination or schedule. And the radio of Tom's car plays old songs, interrupted sporadically by local news, which oddly seemed to be free of crime and warfare. Can this be paradise?
After 2 days with Tom we part ways, and I join a 1-day organized bus trip to Paihia, The Bay of Islands and the 90-mile beach. Driving along a beach is not something I would normally go out of my way to do - where I came from there was even a law against it, and I am fairly law-compliant, as well as environmentally-conscious. But driving on the white-sand, on the surf's edge, for nearly an hour is an exhilarating experience, and when the Maori driver prepares a barbeque for us all I decide that perhaps not all organized tours are that shabby.
I hitchhiked today to the Waitomo Caves, which are partially submerged (some days they are closed due to flooding, but not this day). First stop is the souvenir stalls to see what ethnic stuff they have to offer (I know, it's all touristy, kitsch, some of it is even made in China, but it is still related to the place in question ...). In New Zealand 'ethnic' means Maori, and the souvenirs they are selling consist mostly of carved statuettes with inlaid pearls or mother-of-pearl abalones. I end up buying a clay ocarina, which doesn't look Maori at all, but the saleswoman looks of Maori origin, so I get it anyway. An ocarina is a small wind instrument, and looks a little bit like one of those old clay lamps, like the one Aladdin rubbed on. It has 4 holes arranged in a square near the mouthpiece, plus a couple of little ones further toward the end. The merchant gives me a little demo, and the fingering looks not too different from that of the recorder, which I am used to.
Waitomo means 'water way down' in Maori. There are 3 caves here, but I am only interested in the famous glow-worm cave. There are scores of tourists waiting outside, as it had been raining, and they were waiting for the flooding in the caves to subside. They've been standing there for several hours, but it seems that they were waiting for me, for as soon as I arrived they opened the gates and let the crowd inside.
We walk down into a large, dark cavern, and then we are divided into groups, each with a local guide. The guides go over the usual cave stuff, stalactites and stalagmites, and point out interesting formations, such as one that looks like a kneeling mother with 2 kids, a camel with a rider, an elephant, and a human skeleton who appears to turn his skull under different lighting. The highlight of the tour is the boat-ride though the glow-worm grotto. With some 15 people on the long-boat, including a guide at the bow and another aft, we move along as the guides pull and push at the wires strung overhead. Normally the wires are some 2 meters high, but now they are scarcely above the water, and us passengers have to duck so as not to get decapitated.
Tour groups are often seen following their tour guide's raised flag as they visit the more popular spots, but that's not always the best course to follow. Our guide at Waitomo tells us a story as he pulls himself (and the visitor-filled rowboat) along. "The other day", he says, "I was doing this with a boat full of tourists, when I lost my grip of the rope. I jumped into the water to walk the boat (it's only waist-high, but pretty cold), and they started jumping in after me."
The glow-worms (caterpillars, really) are fascinating, suspended from the ceiling in little blue dots that look much like stars in a planetarium, but with 3-D depth, and a really eerie atmosphere, with the water sloshing all around.
The tallest part of the cave is called "The Cathedral", and the guide explains it is so named due to its acoustic qualities. To demonstrate his point, he asks for a volunteer to sing, but none is forthcoming. After an awkward silence ("C'mon, anyone?" he pleads), I speak: "I'll play you a tune for a ride to Roturua". No rides are offered, but now I have no choice, so I take out the clay ocarina I bought earlier and somehow manage "Amazing Grace", to the applause of the small crowd. And next thing, I'm in the back seat of a Mini-Minor crammed among and under suitcases, on the way to Roturua. "Well, you earned your ride", the driver says. Rather kindly, I think.
Sulfur and brimstone
Roturua smells like Yellowstone Park, or Bepu, Japan, or probably like any other sulfuric-thermally active place in the world. The smelly steam vents out of chimneys and fissures all around the town, where they have spas and baths, and also from random steam vents in the ground, including in the golf course (their version of a sand-trap, no doubt).
I go to Waimangu Valley, where much of the thermal attractions are to be found. The steam and the smell are overwhelming, and the lush surroundings with giant ferns complete the Jurassic-Park feeling. I have never seen fern-trees before - apparently yet another symbol of New Zealand. They call them pongas, and look a bit like short palm trees, but with fern leaves instead of the palm fronds one would expect. Some of the locals use ponga trunks as fence posts, and when placed the right way up, some of these fern trees sprout roots and leaves, and random fence-posts look alive, which I find rather amusing.
The thermal area is filled with cauldrons, gurgling pools, and small geysers, as one would expect. And lots of tourists. Why is it that tourists always seem to crowd the most interesting places? But if you can't beat them ... I join them for a show/presentation about sheep. There are 19 species of sheep in New Zealand, they are telling us. One made for good lamb chops, another for good mutton; this one is suited for a dry, hilly area, while that one for low, flat, rainy areas; one breed has good wool for bouncy carpets, while that one made excellent wool yarn for clothing. Then there are sheep with horns, with furry faces, with black legs, black faces, with straight or curly or long or short fleece. Large and small sheep, in all shapes, sizes and colors. So many sheep! Imagine counting them all (yawn ...)
But the show doesn't end with that. The M-C then dons some work-clothes, consisting of woolen trousers and a sleeveless black shirt that reveals his huge muscular arms. He is armed with an electric shearer that reminds me of those electric barber instruments that they used to cut my hair with when I was little. To this day I squirm during haircuts. In the other corner is a medium-sized sheep, unarmed except for a pair of short horns. It is no match. The human wrestles the sheep into submission, turns it over and upside-down, and in less than 2 minutes the sheep stands naked in its pink skin, while the human proudly holds its fleece high for everybody to see. The audience all claps and cheers, but then they do that too for professional wrestling.
There is also a demonstration of the sheep-herding dogs. Given a series of whistles and verbal commands, the dogs run and jump left and right and around and over and on the sheep, until they have them all in the corral. Just by shaping his mouth one way or the other, with no help of a whistle or fingers, the MC can command a specific dog to, say, move to the left and bare its teeth at the sheep, thus making them turn right. Much as I am impressed with the dogs, I'm more impressed with the whistling capabilities of the host. People may make fun of New Zealand and its sheep farmers, but evidentially it really does require talent.
Roturua is interesting on the whole, despite it being on the tourist route. Still, I want something less touristy, so my next stop is Taupo. At Cherry Island I dine on a deck over the river. There are trout swimming underneath, and a mischievous magpie is harassing guests and picking on everybody's shoes, until the manager comes out and catches it by its beak. Then he holds it on its back and rubs its stomach, much to its (very vocal) delight. "She's still young and very cheeky", the manager apologizes.
Down at the harbor I board a leisurely boat ride for a tour around the lake. Except that it is Wednesday, and that's when they race the boats, and with the wind blowing like it is I get more action than I bargained for. Bill and Margaret are at the helm, and a couple more crew-members (it is a rather large, 4-sail, sailboat), and some 10 tourists, myself included. 'Barbary' is the boat's name, and it is reputed to have belonged once to no other than Errol Flynn, the actor, who won it in a card game. And man, can that thing move. The race consists of sailing around all these buoys, and at Captain Bill's shouts we all scramble to the other side of the boat for counter-weight, and several times it looks like the boat will capsize, but it doesn't, and we finished the race first place in the 4th-division category (of which ours is the only boat).
After the race the crews all convene at the clubhouse for beer and laughs, and then through the evening. Margaret asks if I would like to eat some tea, which I think is a very funny expression. I end up accepting both their supper and lodging offer, and spend the night with them. I sail with them again in the morning, and they refuse money this time, as I am their guest.
Try as I might, I realize I am having a hard time spending money in this country. I travel by hitch-hiking, food isn't much, and more often than not I am invited to stay over. What do you need money for, anyway?
Much as I loved the volcanoes, steamy fumaroles, bubbling mud, waterfalls, and 'ethnic' artifacts, after a week there I decide to move on. On my last day I stand on the jetty and wave to Bill and Margaret on the Barbary. A boy is rowing a dingy towards a seaplane, and a snow-capped volcano looms in the background. As pastoral as it gets. Used to call those "Swiss chocolate-box pictures".
As I head south from Taupo I pass the Tangariro range, where the snow is melting in patches on the slopes. One patch of snow resembles a ghost like those drawn in the old children's comics, but it is too tall and skinny to be Casper the Ghost. Maybe one of the bad ones.
After 3 rides I to get to the Wellington area, the last being with one Bruce, a sheep and goat farmer from the South Island who specialized in mohair, cashmere and angora. "You should drop by when you get to the Invercargill area", he offers, "way on the southern tip of the South Island".
I spend a couple of days in Wellington, touring the gardens and government buildings (it is the capital of New Zealand). From a look-out on a hill I can actually see across the Cook Strait to the coast of the South Island, some 27 kilometers away (that's somewhat less than the English Channel at Dover - though I'd imagine it is probably more difficult to swim, with the cold water, currents and wind). There are also some islands visible in between, including Kapiti Island, which is a bird sanctuary. Tuataras live on some of those islands, I recall reading.
The ferry across the strait to Picton takes 4-hours, and I continue on to the town of Christchruch. The name of the town sounds religious to me, and indeed I soon find myself in Cathedral Square, where I stop for lunch, but now it feels no different than other towns in New Zealand. "You're just on time", the waiter tells me, "the Wizard should be around any minute". The Wizard turns out to be what one might call "a freak" or "a beatnik", though now that I think about it I haven't heard that phrase for a long time. The Wizard persona includes a beard, a cloak and a ladder, and he stands in the center of the square and starts raving against all that was wrong with the world, including science, mathematicians, Americans, astrologists, and women. It is obviously all in jest, and the audience is just sitting there smiling, but finally he manages to get an angry response from one woman. Then he launches into an outrageous but amusing debate with the hapless girl, and tries to draw out more responses from the audience, with little success. His voice alternates between a high shout to a very low rumble, like a boy whose voice is changing, but doing it consciously for emphasis.
At the hostel I team up with Murray and Blair from the UK and together we rent a small car to tour the rest of the South Island, which has a reputation for poor hitchhiking. Stopping at small towns and beaches along the way, we head inland to snowy Mt. Cook, and then back to the coast and onwards south to Dunedin.
At the museum in Queen's Park I visit the "Tuatarium", where I meet 4 of the critters: Henry, Albert, Lucy and Mildred. "Excuse me", I stop a passing member of the staff, "can you tell me again what is the difference between a tuatara and a lizard?" He gazes back at me as if I asked what's the difference between a dog and a chicken. Then he catches the accent and understands he is dealing with a foreigner, so he does his best to answer politely. "Don't know where to start", he begins. "It's easier to say how they are alike: They are both animals, and they have 4 legs and a tail. Otherwise the skeletons and anatomy are vastly different, the scales of the tuatara are very much like feathers, and they can live a couple of centuries, as opposed to a few decades, at most, for lizards. Henry here is over 100. Tuataras have been around for hundreds of millions of years, predating the birds, the lizards, and even the dinosaurs. How's that for starters?"
I spend the night at Larnach Castle just outside of town, and the next morning we part ways, me continuing south to Invercargill, while Murray and Blair head up to Queenstown, where they plan to embark on the host of extreme sports, such as white-water rafting and bungee-jumping (why is it that these unrelated activities often seem to be offered side-by-side?).
Walking around Invercargill, it feels I stepped back in time to old England: Old cars, milkmen, Dr. Who-style phone booths, lawn-bowling ... People seem to behave polite and 'proper', too.
In the afternoon I connect with Bruce, the farmer who gave me a lift on the Northern Island. I find myself talking with Bruce about the economics of farming in New Zealand. "Sheep run around $40 a head. There are all kinds of sheep here. You know Romney, of course, and then there's Suffolk, with the black faces, to name a couple. And lots of other breeds in New Zealand."
"How much do the angora goats cost?"
"I'm looking to get a male one now - going to cost me some $6000".
"Wow! How long would it take to recover that kind of investment?"
"Sheep are easy to figure out. An adult costs some $40, right. It produces some 5 kilos of wool a year, worth about $18, plus a lamb, which could be sold for $15, so it almost earns its cost in the first year. The goats can produce some $60 worth of mohair every year from two shearings (it grows about an inch a year), so you'd need a century of mohair for that, except that the goats have kids, of course, which are worth a lot."
"So it's an iffy investment?"
"Farming is not only to get quick returns on your money. Some people here raise deer, from which they harvest the antlers for the far-east drug markets - you know, for longevity, aphrodisiacs, stuff like that. That's even iffyer"
"Do you ever, like, bond with the sheep, like a pet? Does it ever bother you that an animal that you raised from infanthood is, how to put it mildly, slaughtered, skinned and eaten?"
"That's what farming is all about. Almost like a tree. But not quite. I mean, you get to know the animals, but when it's their time to go, they go". He points to a sheepskin rug on the floor. "I remember that sheep." He shrugs indifferently, but I swear I detect my host swallowing in discomfort (or guilt?).
I am set up in a comfortable room in the barn. I read for a while, and around midnight go out to admire the vast open space that is common on a farm but so rare in a city. The stars are out in all their multitudes. On one side of the sky I can see purplish translucent curtains kind of hanging high above the ground. They seem to be moving somewhat in the wind. Although I've never seen it before, I know I must be looking at the Borealis - the polar lights.
I ask Bruce about it over breakfast in morning. "Do you often see the Northern Lights here?"
"You mean the Southern Lights, of course. It's rare, but we do see it sometimes."
"I didn't realize New Zealand is so close to the South Pole".
"It isn't. But it's fairly near the magnetic South Pole, where you can see the Borealis. The magnetic pole is not quite where the geographic pole is. That's why you have a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Boston than in, say, Moscow, even though Moscow is further north."
I follow Bruce around the farm, with its special mohair goats and ordinary (but mandatory) herds of sheep that everybody seems to have there. And the amazing sheep-herding dogs, too, that respond to their owner's even-more-amazing vocabulary of various whistles. I thank my host and bid him farewell, and continue on my way.
I get all the way to the western part of the south island in this manner, barely spending $10 a day. And each house I visit seems to have a trampoline. Do Kiwis like to bounce?
I visit Fiordlands and Milford Sound, go for a cruise with the dolphins in the bay, stop briefly at Queenstown and then Wanaka, but it is raining, so I continue on (making a note to myself that these places warrant a lengthier stay - maybe next time).
It Flows Down and Recedes Up
Then I reach the glacier area.
A glacier, as the dictionary explains, is a river of ice. It starts out high on snowy mountains, and instead of free-flowing water tumbling down the valleys, you have ice inching its way slowly down, along with dirt, rocks, vegetation, and any other debris it picks up along its slow (but powerful) route. Most glaciers in the world are receding now, shrinking, as the rate of meltage at the bottom is greater than the rate that the ice is added on the top. So even as the ice flows down, the end (terminus is the correct term) seems to be moving up the valley. I picture a hermit living at the bottom of the glacier, near the terminus, who stays in his make-shift hut and comes out once a year. He thinks that the glacier is a huge snake that is slowly inching down the valley, but each time he comes out he sees the tip of the snake higher up, as if it's crawling uphill instead of down.
I happen upon Fox glacier first, nix the guided tour, and drive straight up to the terminus. There are some others there making an attempt at hiking a bit into the glacier. They have fancy equipment, like crampons on their boots, ice picks and a guide. I watch them for a while, and then walk to the edge of the ice. Water is seeping out from under the ice, and I'm afraid I'll wet my sneakers, that are anyway almost worn though the sole to my socks. I walk just a bit onto the ice, and then go back to the car.
Next I drive to Franz Joseph Glacier, but the best I can do there is climb up Sentinel Rock and view it from a distance. As I stand there, marveling at the glacier, the mountains, the cascades, and the river, a helicopter flies into view, and heads straight for the glacier. It seems to fly right up the icy pinnacles and then zigzag back and forth over the glacier. It looks like a lot of fun, and on the spot I decide that I must do it, if not for the glacier then at least for the helicopter ride (something that I have never experienced before). The price to go on a helicopter ride over the glacier is way over my budget, but then, I've been living under my budget for so long that I can probably splurge on this one expense. And besides, what is money for, if not to take a helicopter ride over a glacier?
What the hell, I pull out my wallet. They strap me and 3 others in, gave each a headset, and I brace for takeoff. The rotors start rotating faster and faster, and suddenly we are airborne.
It is anticlimactic, actually, no more than driving a car really - just buckle up and go. No speeches or explanations or safety procedures. Even a small plane, in which I had flown before, has more foreplay, what with talking with the control tower, taxiing down the runway, and toggling all those overhead switches...
Still, I find it a bit unsettling, as we move straight up, turn slightly to the right, and head off. It reminds me a bit of one of those Omnimax 360 theaters that you find in Disneyworld, for example. At the same time I find it surprisingly smooth and quiet, not at all like in those war movies, where all you can hear is the CHOP-CHOP-CHOP of the rotors. At one point it seems we are not moving at all, and it is the scenery that is moving and changing around and below me, as the pilot narrates what we are seeing. It took us 5 minutes to get to the glacier, and then we dip down and skim some 5 meters above it. Pinnacles, ice caves, deep blue crevices, and stress cracks dance below us as we ooh and ah and snap away with our cameras. With the excitement subsiding somewhat, the pilot takes us right under a tall waterfall, and then follows the glacier back to the terminus, remarking how the glacier has been receding rapidly in recent years.
The Best in Life is Free
The way back up the coast is dotted with ghost towns and museums from the gold rush era. I stop in one of those, a restored gold-rush town appropriately called Shantytown, complete with real old dilapidated buildings, authentic claims and tools, and a couple of real-to-life gold- miners, who offer me some hands-on panning experience. They bring some local riverbed soil and show me how to shift the pan from side to side and back and forth until all the soil, dirt and pebbles fall out from the sides, leaving a few specs of gold. I stick my finger on the specs so they would stick, and then dip my finger into a little water bottle and watch as the gold specs float to the bottom. I figure that after an hour of this I might collect a milligram of the precious stuff. "Well, what do you think?" the bearded one asks. "Very rewarding" is my answer, but the sarcasm seems lost on the guide.
"Do you think you'd like to do this for a living?"
"Doesn't your back hurt after a while?"
"You get used to it", says the one with the cane.
Continuing north, I stop at Punaikiki for a walk on the beach among the arches, caves, blowholes and Pancake Rocks, which remind me of, well, a stack of pancakes, such as those featured on the label of fake maple syrup (the real maple syrup bottles have a maple-leaf on them). No, a better image, I decide, are those sand spires that you build on the beach when you sit on the water's edge and collect wet sand in your hand and then let it drip slowly between your fingers. Boo to fake syrup.
I reach Karamea, and do an hour or so of the Heaphy Track, just to sway on the hanging bridge, and continue down to Scott's Beach. Ponga trees and waterfalls: Heaphy Track looks beautiful, but it takes 4 or 5 days, which I am not prepared to do at this point.
Finally I reach Nelson, on the north coast of the South Island, overlooking the bay. I called in advance for directions, but it still takes hours to find the house (didn't they ever hear of street addresses there?), and by the time I do it is nearing midnight, and I go straight to bed.
I slept well. He had a section of his house all set up for wandering travelers, with a private bathroom, a window to the yard, and a little bureau with a couple of drawers and a radio clock. Like a real hotel suite. When I got up and about, I found Lindsay, my host, preparing breakfast. It includes a fruit salad, homemade granola, and what looks like a thick yogurt. "Wow", I gasp, eyeing the spread, "Is this what you eat everyday, or is it just for my benefit. You shouldn't have".
"Well, I'm into this health thing now", he answers. He did look like one of those aging health freaks, with the body of a 20-year-old athlete but the face of an older man, though the full beard made it hard to place his age. 45, I guess, give or take a decade. Lindsay pulls up a chair, and I can see that his biceps are impressive.
"I'm going running later - you're welcome to join me".
"Not much of a runner, but thanks." I pour some plain yogurt in a bowl and cover it with granola, with a spoonful of fruit on top, then inquire: "Not working today?"
"I'm not working much at all these days".
I look up from my dish.
"I used to work, of course," he continues. "Maybe I'll work again someday. Just not now."
The days pass and I'm still here. I venture out, explore the area, go to the beach, short hikes, but at the end of the day I always drift back to Lindsay's place. Sometimes I help my host in his herb garden, and once I went running with him (attempted to, anyway - I had to stop after 2 kilometers and walked back).
Lindsay seems to spend much of his time at home, though once or twice he went into town for errands at the post office and hardware store. He keeps to a schedule of sorts, which includes exercise, organizing things around the house, running, computer time, and most of the rest of his time outside in the yard, where he seems to be digging and building and planting.
"Did you ever see the Monet's Giverny series?" he asks me.
"That's the Impressionist artist, right?"
"The Impressionist", Lindsay repeats with emphasis. "He has this series of paintings at Giverny, with a Japanese bridge and lily pads - that's what I'm trying to do here."
"Cool. But didn't I already see a fish-pond on the patio there?"
"That's different - that one is what you call 'ornamental', for sitting next to and looking at goldfish. It needs to be cleaned, by the way - you can help me with that. But this other one is going to be bigger, with a bridge, a boat and all, and I'm going to try and get those giant lily pads that can support people. I already have the row-boat", and he points at an old wooden two-seater that doesn't look very sea-worthy.
"When do you think it'll be ready?"
Lindsay looks at the sky. "I reckon it's about time for our 3-o'clock coffee break. Let's go inside."
I glance at the wall-clock when we go in. It is exactly 3. "Can you really tell the time by looking at the sun?" I ask.
"I'm getting pretty good at it now. Not much to it really - just make a few observations one day from your backyard, and then you can interpolate the times in-between. It changes somewhat throughout the year, but not too much."
"Well, it rises around 6 in the morning and sets around 6 in the evening, right? At noon it's in the middle, due north from here. So 3 in the afternoon is easy: It's about midway between high noon and the 6 pm setting time. You have to make an exception for summer Daylight's Savings Time, of course, in which case everything is shifted 1 hour forward: Sun rises at 7, reaches its peak at 1, sets around 7."
My turn to show my knowledge: "You can also do something like that at night, with the moon, you know", I say.
"Nah, too random."
"Actually I figured it's pretty consistent, rising about 50 minutes later each day."
"Really, I didn't know that. I know it changes shape every day, everybody knows that."
Right, that isn't new. Still, it makes me wonder. The moon rises at a different time every day, and changes shape every day. Could there be a correlation between its rising time and its shape? Must be! This deserves extra thought. Besides it being a curiosity (never heard or read about this before), it would be useful for the moon-clock. If this proves true, then we no longer need to consult with a lunar calendar to tell the time when the moon rises, all we have to do is look at the moon to see its shape. And we anyway have to look at the moon to see its height, makes every so much simpler.
Lindsay spoke next: " Imagine - a moon clock, where one can look at the sky at night and tell the time by the moon! You sure it's consistently later every evening?"
"Yeah. Almost an hour later every day. Which makes sense, if you think about it, because the moon goes around the earth, so sometimes it is between us and the sun, and sometimes on the other side, and other times in between."
"So you're saying that that affects its rising time?"
"Yes, because when it is on the same side of the sun, it appears to rise and set with the sun, so it rises in the morning and sets in the evening. And when it's on the other side, it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. And then there's everything in between. And it's almost an hour difference every day because it takes about 29 days for the moon the circle the earth, so it does 1/29 of the circle every day, which is a little less than 1/24, which is an hour."
"Cool. And do the observations match the theory?"
"Close enough. Don't you often see the moon during the daytime?"
"Sometimes, but it's mostly at night."
"No it isn't. It is equally in the sky during the day and the night".
"I beg to differ. Any kindergartener can tell you that the sun in the king of the day, while the night is the domain of the moon."
This seems to be a common misperception...
Everything is coming together. I may have stumbled upon a magical triangle: The moon's rising time, its shape, and what was the other one? Right, it's height. So if the moon is full, it rises at 6 PM, and conversely, if you know that the moon rises at 6 PM, then it is a full moon. And a new moon rises at 6 AM. And if it's a half-moon, wait, how do I know if it's a week after the new moon or a week before? Oh, right, that thing with the Hebrew letters. Add a little line on top, and if you get the letter Zayin then it's growing, while a Gimmel means it's diminishing.
This afternoon I saw a half-moon with the rounded side to the right. So it's getting bigger, so about 7 days since the new moon. Every day the moon-rise is delayed some 50 minutes, so that's about 6 hours per week. 6 AM plus 6 hours puts us at noon. So the moon rose today at noon. Great stuff, very exciting. And I saw the moon in the eastern part of the sky; say about halfway up, or 3 hours since moonrise. Which gives us ... 3 PM!!! It works! Who needs the sun?
I am very pleased with myself, as though I just figured out the secrets of the universe. The final piece fell into place - I can now tell the time by looking at the moon without the aid of a lunar calendar. I shall call this 'A General Method for Telling the Time According to the Moon'. Concise, elegant, very satisfying. That dishwasher feeling again.
Lindsay pours me coffee with a warm strudel on the side, topped with vanilla ice-cream. Looks great. "Wow - couldn't get better in a fancy coffee-shop! You probably baked it yourself, too", I say.
"Well, I cheated - I used puff pastry, and then granola with walnuts. The rest is just jam and apples."
I tell Lindsay my findings.
"Pretty cool," he says, "but I suspect that the ancients had this figured out long ago."
I offer to wash the dishes, but my host refuses. Lindsay has his own method of washing dishes, which I find curious: He plugs the sink, fills it with water and dishes, and then removes and washes each item as he takes it out. I wonder if anthropologists ever conducted a study on how different peoples wash dishes.
I'm starting to wonder about Lindsay. He isn't working, nor does he seem to do anything related to making income (no calls to his investment banker, nor does he look at the wanted ads and business section of the newspaper). Every few days he picks up his mail from the post office, and puts the bundle on the kitchen counter, where it rests till his afternoon coffee. At 3 o'clock, give or take some, he prepares himself a mug of instant coffee, places a cake of his own making next to it, and sits down with his mail and newspaper.
He seems to get plenty of mail, but most of it junk mail. Today, he scans the items quickly, pulls out a large manila envelope, and tosses the rest, unopened, into a large carton in the corner, with the hand-drawn letters "Incoming". The large manila envelope contains a journal he subscribes to, a science journal of sorts, not a professional one - just lots of little tidbits which Lindsay likes to browse through with his coffee. "Did you know that giraffes communicate in sub-sonic sounds?" he asks out loud.
"No", I didn't know that" I answer.
Silence, as Lindsay sips his coffee and I scan the books on the bookshelf. There is a scuba-diving book that looks older than Cousteau. I want to ask Lindsay how old he is, but it has to be done with tact.
"So, what, you're retired now?"
"Well, I'm not working right now, if that's what you're asking".
It was not what I was asking, but suddenly I was much more interested in this than his age. "What do you mean? What do you do for money? How do you guys, like, live?"
"People don't work for money. Well, people do, I suppose. But a lot of people do it because that's what 'normal' people do. If you consume less, you use less, you need less, and you don't need to work much. Middle-class people today have much more than wealthy people could even have dreamt for half a century ago, and in another half-century our richest people are going to look like beggars in retrospect. Me - I have better things to do with my life than spend it working for somebody else."
"So, what, this is what you do: Building a lily-pad pond and running?"
"For now. Still figuring it out. Maybe I'll go on a trip somewhere. Should really do something to leave my mark on the world. We all should. That's what I'm trying to figure out. It will come."
"I have enough".
"And it will never run out?" I ask cautiously.
"It might, but then I know where to get more."
"I don't mean to pry, but I've been in your back yard, and I don't recall seeing a money tree there".
"That because I don't keep it in the back yard", Lindsay smiles.
I look at him inquisitively.
"Ok, look, I can't tell you how I obtain money. I started doing this just over a year ago, and I take what I need, and I don't flaunt it."
"So you do have a secret money tree! Can somebody like me do it, too?"
"Anybody can do it".
"But you won't tell me".
"Come on. Is it gambling? Stocks? Football pool? Some science break-through? A game of sorts?"
"You're close. I suppose I could use some big words like statistics and heuristics. A game? I suppose, but life itself is a game, isn't it, with your assortment of problems, considerations, educated risks, and decisions. You have a goal of sorts, like capturing your opponent's king in a chess game. But that's not the only point - getting there, and how you achieve it, are also important, sometimes even more so. Sometimes the goal eludes you entirely so all you're left with is the journey, so you want to make it as meaningful as you can."
"Interesting. But you can still tell me the method you use, I'm not the cops".
"It's not illegal, or anything like that".
"Well, I do feel a little guilty about it sometimes. Not that anybody is losing out, but it still feels a little unfair. I plan on repaying society somehow, someday".
"So why can't you tell people. Afraid it will run dry?"
"That's part of it".
"And the other part?"
"Did you ever think what would happen to the world if everybody had everything they wanted? For instance, if everybody had enough money so they didn't have to work? Then people wouldn't work. No teachers, no garbage collectors, no supermarket cashiers, doctors or ski patrols. Businesses and our whole way of life would screech to a halt. You can argue that there's an upside, too: no thieves, hookers, lawyers."
"So you're, like, afraid it would bring down society?"
"It may very well have some impact. As it is, we're living a very delicate balance on many fronts and many levels, with all the terrorism, poor nations, disease, energy crisis, pollution, global warming, and so on. We don't need yet another shock to the system."
I look at my host. It's like he is sitting on a secret goldmine. He has a way of accumulating unlimited amounts of money, but he prefers not to. He is a self-appointed guardian of society, forgoing all the comforts he could dream of, so as not to rock the boat.
As if reading my thoughts, Lindsay adds: "I have everything I need. Money is over-rated, anyway."
"Why is that?"
"It is just a meant for transactions, buying and selling. More convenient than the barter system, I suppose, but it's still the same. Some people spend most of their life dealing with it, which is almost as bad as, say, gossiping about so-called celebrities. Other folks spend a good deal of their lives trying to make more money, which is also silly. I sometimes wonder why people who have pursued and made their fortune keep at it".
"Don't you need money?"
"Nobody needs money. You use money. What you need is food and shelter. What are you going to do on a remote island with little bits of printed paper? Eat them?"
"Well then, don't you use money?"
"Of course I use money. Though not as much as you think."
"So your problem, with your conscious, is fairness?"
"I know, it shouldn't be. Maybe I have an advantage over others in this area. But in every society there are individuals who have an advantage, be it bigger antlers, better camouflage, larger brains..."
I take this all in. I have never met somebody like this. I try to sum it up: He doesn't have to work, but he is always busy, occupying himself with self-fulfillment activities, and thinking of contributing to society. Is that all work is for: Contributing to mankind, and doing something interesting? Oh, and obtaining little bits of printed paper to provide food and shelter for oneself.
Lindsay looks at me sitting there, and goes on: "You know about the sharks and the fish?"
"Is that like the birds and the bees?"
"No", Lindsay smiles. "It's a model, in economics, that shows what happens to two inter-dependent resources. Say you have a population of fish, and another population of sharks, who eat the fish. So the sharks eat the fish, and they multiply, and then they eat more fish, and their population grows, the sharks, that is, and they eat more fish, so the fish population shrinks, until there are too many sharks and too few fish, so the sharks don't have enough to eat, and they start dying off, so the shark population begins to shrink, so they eat less fish, so then the fish population begins to grow again, and so on. So the sharks keep the fish population in check, and vice-versa. They show it in a graph as 2 sinus curves, shifted somewhat, because the peak population of the sharks does not happen at the same time as the peak population of the fish."
I listen to this mini-lecture. "Cool", is all that I can venture.
"Anyway", Lindsay continues, "what would happen if the fish population isn't affected by the sharks? I'll tell you what: They'd grow out of control. There are limited resources on this planet, and something has to give."
With that Lindsay proceeds to sort through his old mail. He drags some cartons from his "study" into the living room, sets them all around his easy chair in a semi-circle, and places his "incoming" carton on the foot-rest. The large cartons are nearly half-full, and seem to contain an unordered heap of envelopes. There are big marker labels on each of the cartons: banking, investments, receipts, bills, insurance, health, family. "I don't know why I even bother doing this", Lindsay remarks, as he tosses the letters, still unopened, from the "incoming" box into the various ones on the floor. "They say you should keep the paperwork, in case of an inquiry or something, but it's anyway all on their computers, and I probably wouldn't be able to find anything even if I had to".
He pauses to take something out of the "family" carton - it is a cut-out from the local newspaper. "That's my daughter Gabriella. She played piano in this recital. I recall it was Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody number 2."
I spend most of my last morning with Lindsay cleaning the fishpond with him, using baking soda to scrub off the algae and then fashioning a canvas about a meter over the fish pond to keep out the sunlight (and thus hopefully prevent new algae from forming). We also take out the fountain, which also serves as a filter, take it apart and scrub and wash each part, even each little hole in the sprout, and after reassembling the thing it starts working again. Lindsay replaces the standard spray-fountain head with the bubble type. It makes like a little dome, and when I stick a finger through the bubble it opens like a curtain.
Lindsay pops open 2 beers and we sit in the beached rowboat. "So, you have it all figured out, how to tell the time at night?" he asks.
"Well, by the moon, anyway," I say.
"So you estimate the rising time of the moon by its shape: A new moon rises at 6 am, a full moon at 6 pm, and you interpolate in-between, like a half-moon that is growing would rise around midnight, right?"
"That's right," I say proudly.
And you need the height of the moon in the sky to ball-park how many hours passed since it rose, like halfway up the eastern sky would be about 3 hours."
"Right again," I am beaming.
"Still, the moon is up at night only half the time, right."
"That's right," I say again, now realizing that the usefulness of this discovery is diminishing rapidly.
"And the resolution isn't very fine either, is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if you have say a bulbous moon, and you estimate it to be 11 days since the new moon, give or take a day or 2. So your rising time could be off by an hour or 2, right. And likewise your estimate of the height of the moon, the elapsed time since moon-rise, which can also be off by an hour or more."
"I suppose. Still, it's better than nothing," I mumble feebly.
Lindsay is quiet for a minute "Don't forget daylight savings-time." He says finally.
I wonder if The Ancients took that into account.