30.12.09

In the Land of Ice and Snow


Although I could not quite bring myself to name the dream country I wrote about in the last post, I can say this: it is curiously reminiscent of the landscape of my father's childhood and I think perhaps that when I go there I am not so much wandering in my own hypnogeography as in his; if such a thing can be. There is another dream country I visit that is more my own - the mountain that stands over the town in which I grew up. I went there last night. In this incarnation the mountain was vast as ever, more conical than in fact it is, and I was toiling past oddly shaped granite outcrops, through snow and ice, heading upwards around the bulge of the peak towards an alpine lake that was always just around the bend. Along the way I found a lost archive assembled by previous explorers, amongst which there were many open receptacles full of moulded figures like dolls that were in themselves examples of various forms of cultural miscegenation. In their mixed expressions meanings were expressed, for instance the bitterness of racial hatred combined with the self-contempt such feelings can engender. And, at the other end of the scale, the exaltation of true understanding along with dread insight into the arcana of sorcery. I can still see some of these wizened faces, with their wild and tangled black hair, like something from the profligate pen of an artist (Tony Fomison comes to mind; and Ralph Hotere) uninhibited by previous or protected views of the way ahead. The same man who'd made the dolls, I learned as I went on (I could now see silver glints from the lake ahead) had published many pamphlets and these too lay before me in laminated stacks that I was avid to sort through. But there was no time so instead, not without trepidation, I took one to read later and went on towards that seductive silver lake. Some ghostly interlocutor intervened at this point and I turned back from the lake's shores to speak with him. I think I was trying to justify taking the pamphlet, and in so doing pointed out that my own father's book was included with those others in the archive of explorers' journals. I found his thesis and opened it up; learning to my surprise that it was a four volume work, not the actual single book in only three extant copies, one of which I own. I cannot now recall volumes 2 and 3 but #4, which was smaller, contained poems he had written that had certain affinities with the moulded doll-like figures mentioned above. In other words my father's poems, which were structured like a family tree, gave voice to those who had no other, to the silent and forgotten among us, those who lived and died and left no record of their activities and experiences. He had somehow extracted the memories of these forgotten ones from the recall of those who had left account of themselves behind; and although his poems were made of words, as poems are, I could also sense between or behind the lines the actual faces of these unknown ones. I say this is a place I have visited before and so it is; but this is the first time I have been allowed to look into the archives contained there, high up on the mountain, on the shores of the silver lake, among the ice and the snow and the whistling wind.


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7 comments:

genevieve said...

This post is very beautiful and thought-provoking, Martin.
I believe I read about this picture, or one very like it, recently in Christine Thompson's book, Come On Shore And We Will Kill You And Eat You All - http://www.comeonshore.com/index.php. Unfortunately I did not make a note of the name of the colonialist in it, but I remember she speculates about his motivation for creating such a disturbing collection, and inspects some herself in a museum.

Elisabeth said...

Dreams give such wonderful access to places and things we might otherwise never come to see or know. Such powerful writing, Martin, as ever. You turn a dream into a piece of fiction, almost a short story. And ever present is the thread of truth weaving through this our shared history on earth.

I had a dream once in which I came upon a group of naked indigenous Australian women drowned in the river. Your dream brings the memory back, and I feel the weight of past abuses against these innocent people once again.

Adam Aitken said...

Truly haunting, both text and photograph, and quite coincidentally I was reading an essay by Gustaf Sobin about how the Celts were considered headhunters by the Romans. Also, I have written a humourous poem about the colour white and it's connection to snow. Here it is:

In Iceland
even the white sheep
are considered
coloured (grey, brown
or spotted)
as there is
enough white in the ice
to go around.

Adam Aitken

maps said...

I also have a dream country of snow:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2009/06/my-journey-to-antarctica.html

Will let you know how the trip to Tonga goes. Fascinated to hear your old man was there. I've just been reading some of the literature on Tonga and WW2, and it sounds like the Americans screwed the place - virtually colonised it for a few years...

Martin Edmond said...

The fellow in the photo with the dried heads is Horatio Robley, artist and soldier, who fought in the Land Wars and afterwards involved himself in various speculative schemes to do with gold mines etc:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Gordon_Robley

Michelle said...

I'm drawn to this: the profligate pen of an artist.

genevieve said...

Aye, that's the guy! fancy me not remembering an extraordinary name like that.

Adam, I think the Celts were headhunters in some respects - the historical Arthur probably hung them from his chariot as he roared drunkenly, covered with body paint, into battle sometime in the sixth century AD (or thereabouts).