How can we make sense of tragedy? We can't. We can weep, we can get angry, we can turn to prayer or to poetry or to music. We can hug, we can hope, we can scream, we can get stone blind drunk. And that's just those of us who are not personally undergoing the torments of uncertainty and loss. Our hearts go out to all those personally touched by the mining disaster that took place one week ago today, and that has been unfolding over the agonising days since then. We are a nation in mourning.
Recently I was in dire need of a holiday. This parlous state tends to creep up on me, workaholic that I am, and usually by the time I realise I need a break, I just can't wait the three months for the specials on the tropical holidays, or even the three weeks for the cheap Grabaseat deals for NZ and Oz.
I need to walk out now or I will explode. Or is it implode?
Anyway I did get professional advice to "disengage completely" and I do believe in listening to the experts on such things. I don't seem to be able to do it without outside permission, though...
So having seen sense, where do you go for a holiday if you already live at the beach - the place where everybody else comes for their holiday?
Why you take a road trip to the mountains... And nice it was.
First we went up the Waitaki Valley, following a heavily modified river.
What a glorious country New Zealand is, even when we have done our best to destroy it. When we dam up the rivers, and tame their wildness, their freshness, we still manage to create a strange lovable beauty out of the destruction and domination.
And then you get to the mountains, and gingerly tread along the great alpine fault that is notoriously stretched as tight as a rubber band and at any moment will snap causing a massive shifting and heaving and seismic uplift: "The Big One".
Would the Big One happen while we were in its own back yard?
It didn't, but I wasn't worried anyway. At least we wouldn't have another tsunami scare while we were that far inland.
Anyway, we found quiet vast spaces with fresh mountain air, roaring fires, and hot tubs.
Sometimes you have to go a long way to learn to sit still again, and remember how to relax.
It reminds me a bit of the genre of book I was once familiar with, in my past: the devotional prayer/photo book I used to pick up when on a contemplative prayer retreat at a convent or monastery or other spiritual centre.
The aim is not to hurry through the book, but to stop with an image or a word or a line.
And head off on your own direction, or even into stillness.
Smither is a fine poet, so there is no question of this being a mere coffee table book, or even that her poems needed enhancement in any way. They didn't. The addition of the photography is just a gift, allowing for visual as well as poetic meditations, and for connections to be traced or developed if you feel like it.
The book is a treasure. An indulgence perhaps, because of course, including attractive glossy full-page photographs means it costs more than a slim volume of verse, and it's probably too big to read on a bus or a plane.
I think it would make a fine gift, for oneself or for someone else.
It's like a portable refreshment for the mind and heart - and the soul, if you like.
According to the famous mathematical thought experiment, Schroedinger's cat is neither dead nor alive. So it's a cool concept if you don't like being locked into binaries. Not so good if you don't like being locked into a lethal booby-trapped box. And from the cat's point of view, there is no ambiguity at all.