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Fear

From Art All Magazine, 2010

Fear: Landscapes of my youth.

The last time I was home, I drove along my favourite road, up past Apiti through to Rangiwahea and then to Taihape. I pulled over for a break and spent some time throwing stones into the Rangitikei river. I surveyed the white papa cliffs opposite me and as I did, a memory came back to me long forgotten. It was fear. I felt suddenly alone and turned quickly back to the car and drove on.

When I was a small child, we lived in Taihape. Whenever we used to go to see the cousins or grandparents we would take the old State Highway One south. The road that clung to the hills and cliffs of the Rangitikei river valley is today a much smoother drive. I remember being so afraid that I would try to sit on the side of the car opposite the cliff, as if lending my pre-school weight to that side of the car could possibly prevent it tipping and tumbling off into the valley. The heart beats fast, hang on to the arm rest, shift even further way from the cliff. It’s ok, it’s ok.

I saw fear for the first time in my six month old daughter the other day as I took her to the bath. She started to breathe quickly and clung to me like a possum, digging in her fingernails and looking down at the water. I could feel her heart racing. She had just registered danger, like Haunui-a-nanaia who contemplated a wide river he needed to cross. He called that river Manawatu  – the heart caught up. I slowly lowered her in. It’s ok, it’s ok, look, here I am.

A creeping chilly fear is what used to come over me in the bush near a house of my childhood, on the edge of manicured Khandallah. It sat nestled into the hills near the Ngaurunga Gorge, just where things tumbled off out of control into bush and gorse full of cobwebs and baby spiders. There were trees and creeks to be played in at the end of fenceless sections where the grass cuttings were heaved over the bank next to nice smelling bushes with heart shaped leaves.

It was something about certain parts of the bush, that one part on the hillside, where I always felt the necessity to run, as if I felt the touch of a chilly finger. It would come over me all of a sudden, and away home into the sunlight I’d run, unable to look back, my jaw stiff as concrete.

Later the bush is shadowed in the night, the hillside a black silhouette, and the garden tree leaves are touched softly by a thin veil of moonlight. I am looking up at the moon through the window, stretching out my hand from my bed to pull the curtains back, tracing pictures with my finger tips in the condensation on the windows, listening to the anonymous noises and rustlings in the dark. In the morning the window-sill will have a small puddle on it.

Meanwhile here in the Andalusian sunlight, the land appears benign and picturesque. There are ploughed fields and sunflowers. People have poppy paintings on their walls. We pick wild thyme and lavender, but I still get frightened sometimes. Sitting outside in the sun, I envisage the wind sweeping me away over the side of our roof terrace, light and insignificant as a leaf. I shudder and move away from the edge. What is this fear now? Living in this place where story book orange trees grow out of neatly cut squares in the paving? It must follow me everywhere, my little reminder.

The night comes on. The large moon has been rising a hazy orange in the dusty sky. It looks thirsty. The tiles under my feet are still hot from the day. It makes me think of a photograph I took in 2000 of another moon-the brightest moon in seventy years. Another old home, since moved on from, and I am standing in the front garden by the hydrangeas at the bay window, the night dew is coming down. A night garden is a quiet place. The clouds come and go and suddenly the moon appears bright and glowing.

Years later, driving alone in the night on a South Taranaki back road, the moon is again bright and guiding. The sign posts are just readable. I pull over for a break and stand at the gates of a Pa in the dark looking on. No lights, no one to welcome me, because I am a ghost passing in the shadow and everyone is asleep. All is calm and quiet.

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