Mental health, walking, putting one foot in front of the other metaphorically and literally, etc…

‪#‎mhawnz‬ It’s been Mental Health Awareness…umm. Well… its been going for more than a week but I’m not sure it’s lasting a full month.

Lake Benmore
Lake Benmore

There was a challenge, with the hashtag ‪#‎mhawnz, where you posted a different type of photo from the outdoors every day to mark the period.

The idea is, from what I can gather, to highlight the general benefits of getting out into nature.

I seem to know a lot of people going through mental health issues at the moment.  And – in what now seems like a different life – I was, for five years, a volunteer on Youthline’s crisis line, which gave me a bit of insight into all this.

Personally? I’m not unacquainted with the black dog sniffing around the room at 3am, or waking with what I call the Boulder of Dread on my chest.

Anyone, I’ve learned, can hit overload. It’s not something I dwell on or go on about. I can hyper-intellectualise this by saying self-dramatisation is one of the ills of our age – and that is true, I think.

The other,  probably more important reason is that I’m just, culturally and emotionally,  a bit of an uptight Presbyterian about these things.

I’m okay with that, by the way. I love and accept my attitude problem.

Omarama Bridge
Snow, Omarama Bridge

Anyway, I started doing the photo challenge and then got sidetracked by combination of work and a viral chest infection.

But here’s two pics from the McKenzie area – Lake Benmore, from June a few years back, and just up the road at Omarama, snowing, last year.

More generally, I’ve written about how walking is kind of beaut,  last year.

The old mental appetite is certainly stimulated – and fed – by books, as well as by conversations, chats over coffee,  shouting matches over the Shiraz, gesticulating over the Glenmorangie.

But it is digested by walking.  This is about balance, and the interaction between walking, thinking and feeling.

The full piece, which is a review of a really great book called ‘A Philosophy of Walking’ by Frederic Gros, is here.


Apt, with Labour Weekend looming. Did some of my first tramping trips on Labour Weekends as a kid, back in the 1970s.

It rained, usually.

Nothing so ambitious this weekend, just wombling around the Wellington hills. But I’m kind of happy with that.

New Year’s Eve: ‘Here’s to what the future brings…’

I only started celebrating New Years when I left home: it was a bit of a culture shock to find the rest of the world made such a big deal of it.

Back home, New Years was – weather permitting –in the middle of haymaking. Staying up to midnight to see the year in was the worst possible indulgence, if you had to get up in the morning to milk cows and then spend much of the day in the hay paddock.

So the first few New Years away from home kind of made up for it. They’re a bit of a blur.

Some were memorable: a three day-er in Whakatane, with a 21st on December 30 (happily, a Friday) spilling over into a New Year’s party at the same venue the following afternoon/evening/night/morning/ and then New Years Day on Ohope Beach.

Or a toast to the New Year on Mt St John in Auckland, a few years later: or stopping half way across Mangere Bridge at midnight having just picked up a friend from the airport.

Others were spent in tents in places like the Kaimanawas, and one memorable one in a cave on the edge of the Beansburn River, watching the rain come down, the river raise, and – further up, the snowline come further down the pass.

There was an exhausted, altitude sickness one in Kathmandu in Nepal, in the late ‘90s.

The last one I saw in was the Millennium, from the top of Mt Victoria.

A couple of years later, having done the Heaphy Trail and torn an Achilles tendon, I was with a bunch of fellow trampers at the Last Resort in Karamea, awaiting the midnight hour.

Pretty stuffed. A couple of games of pool had come and gone. The proprietor had excitedly promised us, when we checked in, “something special!” for New Years and when we asked us what it was he proclaimed “JELLY WRESTLERS!”

He looked a bit shocked when we just stared blankly black.

I was on about the third or fourth beer, and it was starting to taste soapy – a personal warning indicator light.

Checked the watch. It was 11:15pm.

O to hell with this – I’ve seen in enough New Years, I thought, and limped off to the bunkhouse.

In that spirit, I don’t think I’ll be seeing 2016 in at midnight. Unless either the daughter or the neighbours get me up, in which case, there might be a certain lack of the seasonal spirit.

I may commit sarcasm.

But, in the spirit of the New Year, here’s the Kinks, with probably their last really decent single.

I love the vocal – as Ray Davies starts with,

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.

he sounds like a drunken uncle rising unsteadily to his feet and beginning New Year’s (or maybe a 21st ) speech.

So here’s to everyone who had a crap year and is planning on a better 2016. There’s plenty I know like that.
And for everyone else, too: here’s to better things.

 

I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead,
The past is gone, it’s all been said.
So here’s to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things…

Walking- ‘that suspensive freedom’


img_3984
Yours truly, above Lake Wanaka, last week. 
 
 
 
A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros (Verso 2014)
 
 
Discovered this wonderful little book over the summer and finally finished reading it: apt, as it turned out.  I’ve not done enough tramping over the past few years, mostly for boring middle aged reasons. It’s high time I got back into it.
 

Must confess I thought, when I saw the title in good ol’ Unity Books, that only a French bloke would find the need to come up with a philosophy of walking.

Shades of Sartre in the scroggin;  Pascal in the polypropylene; Derrida in the long-drop.

 
In fact it’s not like that at all: it is uncommonly direct and clear, if a bit disconcerting at times.
 

 ‘We must really manage one day to do without “news”,’ Gros begins one chapter – one which seems to me to be the core of the book, headed ‘Eternities’.

This may sound strange for a journalist, but I know what he means. One of my favourite political philosophers, Michael Oakeshott, was dismayed to be told, by a star pupil, of an intention to go into journalism, telling the lad, after a long silence, that ‘I think the need to know the news every day is a nervous disorder’.  

 
I doubt Gros has read any Oakeshott: too English, too empiricist, to sceptical for yer average continental philosopher. 

But they might have quite a bit in common: Gros writes that 
 

‘…walking makes the rumours and complaints fall suddenly silent, stops the ceaseless interior chatter through which we comment on others, evaluate ourselves, recompense, interpret. Walking shuts down the sporadic soliloquy to whose surface our rancour, imbecile satisfactions and imaginary vengeances rise sluggishly in turn….You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of the long grass and the freshness of the wind….’


‘Chatter’ is the big no-no for Gros. For those of us who need a bit of solitude in our lives, it is more of a problem than ever: the ubiquitous smartphone, the addictive aspects of social media, are forever bleeping at us, trying to tug annoyingly at the metaphorical elbows of our consciousness.


Longer walks, of several days, bring perspective: away from the ‘chatter’, both interior and exterior. A walk, a hike – in New Zealand parlance, a tramp – allows one to do what Gros calls rejoice:

“rejoicing in that suspensive freedom, happy to set off, one is also happy to return. It’s a blessing in parentheses, freedom in an escapade., lasting a couple of days or less.’

‘Suspensive freedom’. I love that.

The freedom in walking lies, he says, ‘in not being anyone, for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.’


He is very good on what it’s like: he slows down and notices the process of walking.


There is the  ‘strange impression’ made by the first steps each day: you’ve made all the preparations, navigation, food, gear, timings, weather etc, and then

‘you head off, pick up the rhythm. You lift your head, you’re on your way, but really just to be walking, to be out of doors That’s it, that’s all, and you’re there.’

There is a need to walk slowly – well, some of us don’t really have the option – and to not be overcome by goals, by turning the walk/tramp into another thing to tick off your list.
 
‘Knocking the bastard off’, to borrow Sir Edmund’s famous phrase about Everest, certainly has its place.
 
But for most of us, walking should be the goal itself.
‘…the authentic sign of assurance is a good slowness….a sort of slowness that isn’t exactly the opposite of speed’
And:
‘Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints…When you hurry, time is filled to bursting, like a badly arranged drawer. 
‘Slowness means living perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one, drop by drop like the steady dripping of a tap on stone. 
‘This stretching of time deepens space. It is one of the secrets of walking: a slow approach to landscapes that gradually renders them clearer, like the regular encounters that deepen friendship. Thus a mountain skyline that stays with you all day, which you observe in different lights, defines and articulates itself.’

This is all gorgeous stuff. 

There is, if you want it, a bit of Yer Ack-Shul Phillosophee: there are chapters on those famous, and not so famous, philosophers who have liked walking, and the book starts with a quote from Nietzsche


‘We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books, when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors — walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful.’

 
Which certainly knocks some of the the more grandiose or gloomy prognostications of Nietzsche into the proverbial over-brimmed millinery.

It is also something I’ve noticed about myself: the better ideas often come while out walking. This is not to denigrate being, in Nietzsche words, ‘stimulated by books’.


The old mental appetite is certainly stimulated – and fed – by books, as well as by conversations, chats over coffee, and shouting matches over the Shiraz, gesticulating over the Glenmorangie.


But it is digested by walking.  This is about balance, and the interaction between walking, thinking and feeling.


‘The climbing body demands effort; it is under continuous tension…It’s important not to weaken, but to mobilise energy to advance, to place the foot firmly and hoist body slowly, then restore balance.  

So with thought: an idea to rise to something even more astonishing, unheard of, new.
and then again: it is a matter of gaining altitude,

There are thoughts that can only occur at 6000 feet above the plains and mournful shores.’

Italics added.

Every page has a lovely little line like this. If you like walking, thinking, and just slowing down and noticing, you won’t regret getting ahold of this work.


Bugger

That last post?  The one with the screenshot from Google Maps?  It is where a tramping trip began last Sunday.

And ended there, too.  Prematurely.

There are other people I need to inform of the whole thing, including my osteopath and, perhaps, ACC, although they’re a bit more toey these days about back injuries….and also a couple of mates who I had planned to go tramping with over the next couple of months.  It looks like lugging anything large and full of scroggin around on my back is going to be a bit of a no-no for a bit.

Typing this is bloody hard, actually, MORE ANTI FLAMM NEEDED.

I did manage some tramping. Left that carpark and went in to Aspiring Hut.  Back felt a bit iffy from the start and after about 20 minutes was even more iffy, like iffy as in WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME.  iffy.

I did stay in there a couple of nights, because (a) by the time it was hurting enough to turn back the hut was closer than the start and (b) Presbyterian bloody-mindedness PAIN IS GOOD FOR YOU YOU SLACK BASTARD.

I did take some good photos and if technology is being reasonably gracious and/or the residue of antiflam on my fingers isn’t caused me to push the wrong button, these are below, or at least somewhere on this page.

You’ll have to find them yourself. It hurts me to point.

The last is from the drive out, but I like it. The first is from the Aspiring Hut, the second is on the way in.  This area is usually covered in snow by this time of the year – the conditions are more like April than June at the moment.

 

nz book month -10 and 11: ‘101 Great Tramps’ and ‘Soundtrack’



“You hold in your hands a book crammed with blind prejudices, foggy memories, rash declarations, unsubstantiated assertions and, quite probably, lies.”


That is the opening line to ‘Soundtrack’ but it could perhaps just as easily be about 101 Great New Zealand Tramps – except for the lies bit.

Both these books are associated with things which have given me a great deal of pleasure, made significant depredations upon my bank account, and have, in their different ways, taken a toll upon my physical frame.

In 1989, as a university student, I got an earlier edition of ‘101 Great Tramps’ and decided I was going to do all the trips contained therein.

The gods were listening to this vow, and in the ways of gods everywhere, decided to have a little joke. A bout of severe glandular fever, soon followed by several years’ chronic fatigue syndrome, were the result.

But that is the gods for you. Bunch of bastards. I’ve since managed quite a few trips in the book, and will do one more in January.

So, up yours, gods.

‘Soundtrack’ is also, but in a different way, a book by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. And it has moments of sheer hilarity. Here is Smithies on Flying Nun band The Verlaines, dismissed by some as “a bunch of classically-trained smart arses who made arty rock n roll for brainiacs:

This is most unfair. The fact that I can barely button my own shirt hasn’t stopped me shouting ‘Verlaine Verlaine Verlaine Verlaine’ to the chorus of ‘Death and the Maiden’ alongside far more erudite souls. The fact that I thought ‘Pyromaniac’ was all about someone who loved pies doesn’t stop me thinking its a great song.
Well, quite. (and he’s right, it is a great song) My only grizzle with the book is it focuses on albums. The great art form of New Zealand music, at least in the 1980s, was the EP. There were good financial reasons for this but also good quality control reasons. Personally (and I know this is sacrilege) I find there are few NZ bands who can sustain an album’s worth of material.

And – a personal gripe – somehow the Able Tasmans are virtually totally overlooked.

But it is still a great book. It will make you return to the music.

And 101 Great Tramps will return you to the hills.







Holiday pics…

…and why blogger wouldn’t let me upload them last night but did it in a trice this morning I don’t know. 

And isn’t getting a slide film difficult these days?  Went into a pharmacy in Christchurch, asked the assistant for a slide film and got a blank baffled look. ‘What treatment is that for?’ she asked, after a very long pause. 

Anyhoo…
1. Snowstorm approaching Aspiring Hut, around 3pm 15 June 09.
2. North Temple Valley Basin. Those are frozen waterfalls you can see on the rock.  The river (to the right) had also frozen.  There was no wind.  This photo only begins to capture how magnificent it was.
3.  Jet over Mt Cook. 
4.  The world’s greatest drive?  Mackenzie Basin, north of Twizel looking towards Cook and Tekapo.