Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paradise No Moa


Reminder! I'm reading from Trousering Your Weasel this Friday, 2/8, at 7PM at St. Johns Booksellers in North Portland. I'll read other stuff too. It'll be fun. I'd love to meet you.

New Zealand is not in its original condition. The flora and fauna have been reengineered in the typical clodhopper human fashion. Our species loves to tinker with things as though we were polishing the good china with a backhoe. These islands (two full-size, with a set of smaller seed-islands for backup) sailed out of Gondwanaland fully forested, which offended the early settlers’ mercantile sensibilities, and they scraped them almost bald. The land was home to a companionable group of flightless birds that pecked about in peace. The birds strolled past each other in grand profusion, with nothing to worry about but thigh-feather abrasion.

A depressingly thick tome
The first humans that arrived found them delicious and a lot of fun to kill, and promptly wiped out the biggest ones. Then they looked around and thought the place was a paradise that could only be improved by the addition of a few bunnies. And while it is possible that a few bunnies might have been an asset, no one will ever know. Not to be undone by the great rabbit eruption, our heroes hauled in some stoats and things to polish off the bunnies, and now there are stoats, bunnies, and possums up the national ass, none of which was conducive to a good paradise, from the point of view of the ground birds. Even the iconic kiwi is down to about twenty peevish examples that have elected to come out only at night, not that I blame them, and I never saw a one. The species-introduction experiments unfortunately stopped short of grizzlies and pythons, which might have done a good job curtailing the original source of blight.

Because we’re still here.

But not, by recent planetary standards, that many of us—not here. This is a comfortably unpopulated land, with the vast majority of residents corralled in cities, as people should be, and the remainder strung out in the countryside with a thousand sheep each available as spacers. The principal occupations are being nice to people in airports, sheep arrangement, and trail maintenance. Anywhere a person might rightly want to tramp is all laid out with boardwalks and graveled pathways and a lavish architecture of steps and bridges over the damp spots. The whole system is tidied on the hour by reasonably-compensated pebbleherds who keep the gravel spanked into its proper borders. To my eyes, the weed-whacking on the sides of the trail was overdone, until I realized that all the border plants would clap their hands over your head by noon and consume stragglers by nightfall, if not subject to regular discipline. 

So what we have here is a beautiful set of islands that is completely walkable, which is my definition of a civilized state. We are encouraged to travel the whole thing on foot by the splendid trail system and the fact that automobile fuel is five million dollars a gram, which is exactly the price God would have put on it if he were as powerful as the oil moguls.

I kid. Most people know a lot more about God than I do, and many of them believe he is even more powerful than the oil moguls. They’ve only got that on hearsay, but I suspect they’re right. And if he is, it will all become much clearer over time. Not that much time, either. Hope we get to wave at our fellow space travelers before we go.

47 comments:

  1. lol! They are a beautiful set of islands that are completely walkable! I LOVED that about New Zealand! Some gorgeous paths to lose yourself for hours on, with nary a companion except the teasing fantail who is still daring you to try and get his picture! :p

    And the sheep... did you see any woolly merinos? Those fellows are adorable! They look just like I imagine a soft sweater with feet would look, nice and cudly! I wonder if I could just wear a merino sheep? Why does it need to be "transformed" into a sweater?

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    1. transformed into a sweater? Why? Oh, because we knitters must knit.

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    2. I'm with knittergran. Apparently, those people MUST knit. It is mandatory. Around here they're knitting street signs and spare tires and I don't know what-all. You should look up Shrek the merino sheep on the Googles.

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    3. Cool, Murr! Just think, if I hadn't read that sentence ("You should look up Shrek the merino sheep on the Googles."), I would never have known that there is an actual Encyclopedia of New Zealand on the interwebs, named Te Ara - which, if I'm not mistaken, is pronounced "tay-wow-wow" ...

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    4. That is one crrrrrrazy sheep story!!!

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    5. I like my sweaters without intestinal tracts.

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  2. So, it's next to Oz, but not loaded with things trying to kill you? Sounds like heaven.

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    1. There aren't even any snakes. And I didn't see one mosquito!

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    2. What?! You didn't have an encounter with the voracious sandflies?! Consider yourself VERY lucky!

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    3. I heard about those. Linda had an encounter. The world had pity on Dave, I think, after having given him bronchitis.

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    4. How about spiders? Do they have those?

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    5. Just one, right outside Mordor, but she's really big.

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  3. Okay, this person who has not even been on an airplane since 1994 now has a desperate hankering to go see New Zealand.

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    1. 1994? Really? Boy are you in for an unpleasant experience. Well, I'm going back. Don't know when.

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  4. "...with a thousand sheep each available as spacers." Nice! Reminded me of this, from the movie “Invictus”:

    Nelson Mandela: [as match {1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match} is about to begin] Perhaps we should make a little wager?

    New Zealand PM: All your gold for all our sheep?

    Nelson Mandela: Well, I was thinking more along the lines of a case of wine.

    The movie was not bad - but that exchange (I hope it actually happened) turns out to be the most memorable...

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    1. The PM would need all his gold to ship all his sheep. This has the makings of an O. Henry story.

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  5. Hols in NZ? How much did you have to bribe the Kiwis to let you in and your irreverence in?

    By all accounts it’s a wonderful place, with friendly people, the few that are left, that is. I know lots of Kiwis, many having emigrated to Australia or England, still weeping bitter tears over the beauties of their islands left behind.

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    1. Moi? The Reverend Murr is irreverent? Fie! You know, before I went I imagined NZ and Australia would be a lot alike. I guess not.

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  6. PS: Have fun reading and lots of success selling!

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    1. It WILL be fun! I hope I get to meet some of my Portland readers whom I haven't already met.

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  7. Heh, I loved this Murr; it sounds like an awesome place. And that final photo is a kicker! Indigo x

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    1. Mt. Cook, the tallest mountain in NZ. And those ridiculous turquoise lakes. Nothing subtle about this place.

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  8. I once bought NZ possum yarn at a fiber festival. When I asked the vendor how on earth anyone would get fiber from a possum---they have lots of sharp teeth---she hesitated and then said, "it's recycled." I asked how on earth you would get possum fiber in the first place in order to recycle it, she finally gave up and said that NZ is so overrun with possums that it is legal to kill them.
    Oh....so we humans created the problem and the solution?

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    1. Now, I never saw one of their possums, but I saw plenty of items made of Merino wool and possum fur, so it's a thing. Their possums are not the same as our Virginia Opossums. I mean, they're marsupials, but they're brown and not quite as ratty. I think. And yes, we created the problem, but in spite of the number of flat possums as I saw on the road, there's no solving it.

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    2. Possums were brought in (to NZ, that is) from Australia in the 19th century to be captive-bred for fur for the hat trade. Then the bottom fell out of the hat market and they simply opened the possum cages.We keep offering to bring them back to Australia, but the Aussies seem to think they already have enough...

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    3. The only possums I saw were flat dead on the road. Pretty much like the possums here.

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  9. "the original source of blight" ... and we're still everywhere, aren't we?

    Wonderful descriptions here. Makes me want to visit, and I'm not even a traveler.

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    1. Fact: I'm not either. I am full of trepidation. I'm nothing like my travelly buddies, like Linda. And weird travel snafus keep happening to me. They were at a minimum this time, at least.

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  10. I've always wanted to see NZ.. so thanks for showing it through your eyes and wit. Good luck with the reading.. may you sell many copies.

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  11. So sad this beautiful place has been changed so much at the hands of humans. Too bad we've not yet learned to leave well enough alone.

    Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog! Nice to meet you. Good luck at your reading.

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    1. "Leaving things alone" is not our best thing!

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  12. As I write, my son-in-law's very cool 68 year old mom is doing a 4 week walk-about with backpack in New Zealand. She occasionally has internet access so I'm forwarding this on to her - she'll love it. As did I. Still laughing about thigh feather abrasion, sheep as spacers and pebbleherds. Delightful. Thanks, Murr.

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    1. Send her the whole set! This is the last of the NZ series. Although I did manage to get three entire blog posts out of a single Estee Lauder ad in the airport. Word.

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  13. Have enjoyed the NZ trilogy, Murr...so much that I could almost contemplate doing the 24 hour flight it would take. Almost. My sil is a teaching vet with a specialisation in sheep diseases: she's in NZ giving talks as we speak! Goes all around the world doing this. Must tell her about the sheep spacers. hehe

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    1. Actually, this one makes it a quadrapedagogy. Or something. I found the flight pretty easy. The time was close to the same when we got there, only we lost a day. Which was deeply unfair.

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  14. Consider the lost day the price of seeing all that- does that help with the weighting of the unfairness factor?

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  15. Thanks for the tour Murr in your own inimitable style.

    I was thinking of visiting there but the long flight dissuades me. Alas.

    XO
    WWW

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  16. My niece and her boyfriend spent a year plus travelling around NZ working on farms---absolutely loved the land and the people.

    If you have time there's a challenge for you over my way on my second last post....Would love to read your version!

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    1. Interesting. I may slip something in your comment section. I'm so lone-wolf over here, never following memes or suggestions, although this is a classier one.

      Incidentally, you look a little like my mother. I mean, she'd be 100 this year, but back in the day.

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  17. Yes. We are a blight on the planet, aren't we. Personally, I think it was God deciding to work on Saturday when he was already tired that did it. He should have quit on Friday while he was ahead and gone golfing. Quite enjoyable piece, as usual, my friend. Have fun at the reading!

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    1. Right! Like when you decide you can go ahead and finish that blouse you're making as a present if you persevere past midnight, and the next morning, you have two left sleeves sewn in. Yes, this really happened.

      I plan to have fun, thanks! I'm currently battling a bad dry cough and so am uncharacteristically quiet today. Dave probably thinks I'm pissed or something.

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  18. Most interesting. Our farming neighbors were in N.Z. during the recent earthquake. And also how beautiful it was. Thanks for the insights...:)

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    1. Christchurch got whacked in the big earthquake. There's a volcano going off somewhere in the north. I like a country with a boisterous geology.

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