Entoptics III

Living in Auckland for the first time in many years means I am susceptible to upwellings of memory, often triggered by something as basic as the weather. Today is sunny and cold and very clear, so that the Waitakare Range to the west - the remnant, I learned yesterday, of a huge volcano - is blue and sharp with distance. It was a May or June day like this more than thirty years ago when Dean and Kepa and I each swallowed a tab of California Sunshine and set off from Snail's house at Leigh to climb the Pakiri Hill and then go down the other side to the beach. While Dean strode on ahead and I attempted to keep up with him, Kepa, who had lost a lung to tuberculosis and wheezed constantly through the other, hung back and complained: when do we get to THE beach he would say. This was funny rather than annoying and helped keep us cheerful as we climbed, and the acid started to work, and the world began to fragment into geometrics and entoptics and other rhythm grids which were probably physiologically rather than neurologically based. I remember particularly, when we got to THE beach, standing on that amazing reach of glittery white sand and looking out to sea, how the air itself triangulated in ghostly shining chevrons all connected to each other, which seemed constantly to recede into the blue beyond. It helped me understand why Dean (Buchanan, the painter) even then, when he was just twenty or so, always used to lay out his canvases with a similar kind of triangulated grid before painting his cubistic kauri trees or nikau palms or seascapes. After we'd had a swim and been at THE beach for a while we decided to go back round the rocks to Goat Island, a rocky bay enclosed by an island, with water so clear a Marine Research Laboratory has been built there to study the plants and animals living in the sea and on the littoral. It was on that clamber over wet black slick rocks and across tiny beaches made entirely out of fragments of sea shells, that I freaked out: we came to a place where the only way to cross a chasm of deep green rocking water was to leap over it. Dean leapt, and made it; Kepa tried, nearly fell, but Dean grabbed him and pulled him up to safety. Then it was my turn; and I couldn't do it. A strange failure of nerve, some kind of excess of imagination that meant I had already thought what it would be like to fail and fall and so felt unable to take the risk. Dean and Kepa stood on the other side of the chasm, encouraging, exhorting, finally abusing me, as if shame might accomplish what gentler means could not; but still I would not jump. It was only when Kepa pointed out, reasonably, that I carried the pipe and the tobacco and it wasn't really fair that he and Dean should have to continue on without anything to smoke, that my anxiety left me and I found the courage to do it. I still recall the warm happy feeling we all had upon being reunited with each other, as we sallied forth onwards to Goat Island. Later, as evening gathered in the cold trees under the hill, we stopped in at Quentin Lush's for a cup of tea with honey but no milk, and then walked on in the dark up the unsealed road and down the other side to Snail's lighted house set up on the hill above the old sawmill and the town. Always when I think of that trip, it is the triangulated air swarming above the lines of surf at Pakiri I remember, the fear and then the overcoming of fear at the chasm, and, perhaps incongruously, some lines of Keats which came into my head at one of the tiny coves with beaches made only of shell fragments hissing and rustling and sighing as the sea sifted in and out:

Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn ...

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