It is better to arrive… hopefully…

February 24 2016  Maungaturoto,  North Island, New Zealand

I feel that at last I’ve arrived.

imageUnpacked, unlagged, unstressed.  I sit in the breathy shade of the white-painted, tin-roofed, verandah of a single storey 1890s wooden house, moved from a town to this rural North Island plot decades ago to be a family ‘bach’.  Two weeks’ travelling and walking clothes flap brightly in the sunshine.  Cool leftover salad for lunch, a smile in my heart and a desire for my fingers to dance on my travelling keyboard.  I am a journey woman again, writing journey words.

The only tinnitus I hear now after these concussed months is the cicadas’ shiver and insect telegraphy, happily entering my head from the outside.  My muscles clench and tighten from leaping and riding surf, from walking the steep, stepped track to the old volcanic peak of Mt Manaia, and down again.  One thousand steps up, one thousand steps down.  I am regaining fitness with balance, body and head speak again the same language.

In the solid, multi-trunked macrocarpa tree in front of me, dark-evergreen tufted fingers pointing this way and that from chunking roots to grooved-trunk tops, a mynah bird runs through its buzzing, clicking ringtone opus.

Thick black bees punctuate blue sage spikes with droning apostrophes like a gentle, old-school teacher in a thick-aired, summer afternoon as torn leaves of wide, slow-flapping butterflies wink their way to pollen.  A cockerel crows from down the green valley where arching trees twist strands of candy floss clouds from an agapanthus sky.  A cow haunts the unseen meadow with a moan.

I have travelled through the industrialised, impersonal processing of mass international travel like a brutalised, daylight-starved, intensively-reared heifer, an abacus of flight codes, seat numbers, minutes’ late and baggage claims clattering in the neon, eye-piercing glitter of windowless, consumer-driven, branded yet anonymous airport sheds.  Held in corrals and queues for hours to be stamped, ticketed, coded and checked for foreign bodies in my shoes and food before at last being pardoned and released into fresh air, real light, dizzy with destination.

‘It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive,’ Rudyard Kipling wrote.

I wonder…

Copyright Christine Cooke 2016


Houseboat Ecstasy…

February 16 2016
Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, Australia, heading downstream via Wiseman’s Ferry.




Pneumatic drill of kookaburra chorus.  Calm and stillness in cool air until sun heats up the day.  The bush reaches temperature and seethes, fizzing, buzzing, boiling insects.

Passing sandstone flaking bluffs pocked with sun-blisters, ash-grey to burnt-umber. Towering gums, flowering with cream and white powder.


Snake in water.

Mobile grey-green quick lean blue-green steel.  Pin-prick glint eye, whip-smart, arrow strung, flint-sharp, whip-lash, mean, seen me, snap-snip, wave stitch, sharp snap.  Lands quick, slip way, off land, on land, gone.


I am alone on the houseboat, the men are gone to re-provision in the tinny tender.  I sit lengthways on a sofa, the oh-so-kind cool, southerly breeze mopping my brow as sun cracks sandstone, peeling grey skin to expose raw orange rock.  Eucalypts’ adolescent stubble strides, top bowed and shaking in heat and air, to root in old stone fractures.

We coursed today along the tidal Hawkesbury River through National Parks to constant, double-banked applause, cicada-rich, our houseboat a homecoming river queen.  As the tide now turns, so wheels our boat in curtsey on her mooring.

I have green tea, shade, words and Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis’ playing on mi phone.  It makes me smile.  I feel like I’m in a version of that scene in ‘Out of Africa’ where the Streep/Redford couple camp in the bush for the first time together and he plays Mozart to the monkeys on a portable record player.  Flowering gums, I serenade you.  Cicadas – here’s Tallis for your constant background clapping.  Even the flies have buzzed off and are quiet.

A moment of pure, distilled ME.  Green sarong and loose, long-sleeved white cotton tunic, bra-less, hair tied back in a bright scarf – I feel free and comfy as clouds make shadow play with orange cliffs shattered into shaded blocks… are they eye sockets?  A frowning giant?  Ruins of a fabled, ancient city?  A strange, old script?  Seats of prehistoric amphitheatre?

I love that I am far from daily routine, free to let my mind wander, explore yet comforted and uplifted by old voicemail messages, happy family and friends wishing me Bon Voyage. Space to consider my needs for an hour or so.  To stop travelling and moor, let tide and time cradle me…

imageAnd the words come…

Bursting deco trees shape tulips with bony, white hands, arachnid skeletal fingers…  Such bright shadows…  Chalk sketches on green vellum canvas.  Cheerleader trees, arms outstretched, shake long-leaved pom-poms….

And now to Thomas Tallis pure…  ‘Spem in Alium’…  A motet for forty voices. Medieval Tamla Motown wall of sound…

A scorpion cloud arches its tessellated back, stings the cliff’s tree crown into quivering life as Tallis voices soar, wedge-tailed eagles now, soar over  sandstone blocks and stack ten, twenty, thirty, forty voices…  Dissolving grey, freeing light, peeling umber, startling and bleaching the staring soul…

Now I see…

The sandstone shadow play is really music, is notes…  Quaver caves, a semibreve of shade, a colorato cliff…  My music is sandstone rock, it rings and settles, reverberates and echoes, drills into being, and quivers, quivers in the air as cicada half life.  I am alive and living, rocked riverly, sung into spirit, soul-sanded, grey-gone, sanded-soul bright and orange, crust cracked off.  New skin, new skin as Tallis voices puncture me in purity, a scorpion note cloud, combined and arched for one long, slow moment of utter harmony.

… … …

I could cry with joy – senses, words, words like no other, each a step in virgin soil.  I am the first footprint in sand, preserved by careful land and layers.  Shown when time, when nature, when wind and water, sound and stillness, say and sing me into being, into new becoming.

I pull my skin around me, I hear the men returning.  I must find shape, unstick my soul from ecstasy.



Christine Cooke

Copyright February 2016





Stepping Out

February 4 2016  Hansel, South Devon
The land crosses its arms and cradles in the cleft of crossing wrists a valley.  A wide, shallow stream with fallen weirs for conversation, lawns and steeply sloping woods, dense on the south, sparse to the north with meadows laid out like picnic cloths to make the most of a bouncing sun shining through hedgerow curls.  And though at a glance most call it winter in February it is not.

Birds sing the light in and out as it washes like a tide on the hills.  Ducks sit secretly on downy eggs and hens wear deep red combs on glossy heads as they strut through Tudor studs of primroses, yellow pouts of daffodils and green-edged bells of silent snowdrops.  The muscles of the shoulders of the land flex easily, sweating springs as they do their deep, quiet work of clasping tree roots in high winds, urging sap to tree tops and greening fields for sheep.

I step out into soft, mild, morning-cloud air that settles on my skin and moistens it.  In a few days I shall step out of an airport into dry air and strong sun that will send serotonin shooting up my skull to break a smile like a hatching egg.  I shall move differently.  A girasol, a sunflower.

And as I travel in these next spring months, through late Antipodean summer into autumn, I shall at times lie back and rest in thoughts I’ll carry of those cradling, crossed, green-spring arms where a wide and shallow, chattering stream flows over boulders under the shoulders of an old, more northerly land.


Christine Cooke

Copyright February 2016