I knew if I left writing about our travels until I got home again the writing would not be the same, if it even happened at all. There is always so much catching up to do, even when you are away for only three weeks, as we were. And then there is this thing I have noticed…I am never the same when I return from a trip to another country. I can never quite fit back into the same groove as when I left. Truth be told, I kind of like that. Travel changes me in ways it is difficult to describe. At least I have photos, and a few notes I managed to make along the way.
About a week into the trip, on a grey, overcast and lightly raining day between Franz Josef Glacier and Haast in the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand, we came upon Bruce Bay. We had not heard of it but it came at a time when a break in the driving was welcome and we were curious. When we first got out of the car I noticed an odd pile of smooth, white stones. It was obvious they had been intentionally placed there, but to what purpose? Looking up and down the beach we could see that there must have been some serious weather in recent times. The beach was eroded and large pieces of trees and giant seaweed had been washed up. Don walked off a little way, while I studied the stones. I was curious about the source of the stones and looked over the edge of the small precipice created by the erosion. Down below, maybe 10 feet, I could see smooth stones scattered all over the wet sand. It appeared people had been walking down to the beach and choosing a stone to bring back up to the top. And then, being human, they did a very curious thing. Each stone had been written on with texta (markers). There was either a message or a person’s name. I wondered if the name on the stone was the person who was writing the message, or someone they were missing. While we were there we noticed a couple of other people who arrived just after us, contributing to the pile. We did not. I recently heard, it says more about us, the things that we don’t do, than the things that we do. I wonder. Don said he was amazed how many people were carrying permanent markers! We laughed…and later I realised I had one too, in my drawing kit!
The day was monochromatic, ranging from mid-grey to almost, but not quite, black. As I looked up I saw Don standing on the beach, debris strewn on the sand as far as one could see. At my feet were the stones, a kind of monument to the human race, I supposed. Individual, but gathered together as a whole. Most were inscribed in a very considered way, and so neatly done, some faded, some vibrant. I took the photo of Don. And then I took a couple of photos of the stones. I wish now I’d taken more, why, I have no idea.
Later that evening we settled into the least luxurious accommodation of our trip, and logged into the Wifi to check email. The room was cramped and smelled of dampness, which was the prevailing condition in this part of the island. The wifi was good but there was no telephone signal! Haast is in a 244km blackout zone, and was just about to get mobile phone reception for the first time at the end of May 2018. This small, remote community had a nice information centre and several motels large enough to hold a few busloads of tourists. The town also housed the people who serviced it all. Don looked up from his iPad and said, “I’ve just gotten a message from Steve…Dad has died.”
I thought of that solitary silhouette I captured on the beach, and the pile of humanity represented at my feet earlier that day. I wonder how many people have a photo of themselves on the day their last parent has died? Alone, but not yet knowing you are alone. It was all okay, but still. Don had returned from seeing his Father, for what he knew would be the last time, only two weeks before departing for New Zealand.
Such is life. And death. They find us no matter where we are.