I have been hanging out with mountains. That’s just what I have been doing. I live in their neighbourhood now, I am local with them. I walk out of my house, get in the car and drive a few hours – three or four at the most – and there I am. Walking along the street while mountains tower ahead and behind.
What is a mountain if not the very core of the earth reaching up to the sky? It is the land from its deepest centre stretching towards heaven. Our truest reminder of those earliest days. When papa our mother and rangi our father, as the creation story goes, were wrenched apart and reached for each other ever after. And we were born in the empty space of their longing. We inhabited their loss. These craggy peaks and soaring ranges remind us; something is not as it was. The land wants to be one with the sky again.
I can’t take my eyes off those layered folds. The way one curve of green gently rises out of the one before. Standing on the edge of the lake looking out, the layers are uncountable. Ridge after ridge folds down from peak after peak, as far as I can see. Each one nestled into the company of others. A community of mountains, sitting in regal conversation, presiding over our small lives. Continuing the dialogue they began all those millions of years ago. We come, have our moment in the light, and then, at the end of our days, fade away. While they remain.
And that doesn’t make us any less consequential. If anything, it spurs us to do something with this tiny but unknowable piece of time we have been given. This stretch of days we call a life; what are we going to do with it? How are we going to live out the longings that lie at the core of us? How are we going to count our losses and learn from them? How are we going to take care of ourselves? What stories are we going to tell ourselves?
I have been swiftly covering ground, moving backwards and forwards in time at great speed. Answering questions that had gone unanswered for all four decades of my life. This is enlightening and devastating at the same time, thrilling and disturbing. It takes courage to face the things that haunt us. Turning away from them is easy. Ignorance and denial are temptingly sweet. Reality is far harsher and yet it is a sure foundation, the only way we can truly know ourselves.
We demolished the old garage that sits down from the house on the edge of the footpath, as is common in Dunedin. The roof leaked and the door was rotting, stiff and awkward on ancient hinges. It wasn’t fit to be a garage, it housed the things we had no where else to put. Old bikes, boxes of tools and random things still waiting to be unpacked from the move. The water pooled in the corners when it rained, and the floor was a sandy base covered, some time ago, in a layer of black polythene that was now ragged and torn. We talked about what to do with the garage from the moment we arrived. A year later, we took action.
The iron roof was carefully peeled back, the sheets cut in half with tin snips and thrown into the rubbish skip that sat waiting on the side of the road. Then the roof bracing, rotting in places, was strategically demolished and the heavy door taken off its hinges. Finally, the polythene was lifted up and the floor swept of debris. Now all that remains are three concrete block walls and a pale sandy floor. The open space is tantalising in its simplicity, hopeful in its possibility, completely stripped back, a blank slate.
The process of deconstruction was more complex than my description portrays. There was a lot of shifting involved. Things had to be moved out before anything could happen. I said good-bye to some of it, there was grieving to do. The rest was ferreted away wherever it could fit. New spaces surprisingly presented themselves. Unused corners came to light. Spaces that had been ignored were given attention. And there were people involved besides us. A student we’ve got to know, my Dad, the next-door neighbour. Each of them intersecting with the process in unpredictable yet vital ways.
This process is not unlike the one we all go through periodically, when we allow ourselves to see things as they are and find the courage to do something about it. We shed light on dark corners, explore what had been hidden reaches, find new ways of seeing the familiar, discover untapped resources within ourselves. We’re all on our own timeline when it comes to this internal deconstruction. There is no one-size-fits-all, no cookie-cutter recipe or perfect mathematical equation. There’s no point in comparison either, or in thinking that what worked for us will necessarily work for someone else. But we all need to do it, at some point in our lives. We were born into loss, in some way or another, as those mountains remind us.