Literature: Spirit in a Strange Land

Sunrise over Rees ValleyAs promised, I took a book of poetry with me on last week’s climbing trip up New Zealand’s Rees Valley to the summit of the area’s most distinctive peak, Mt. Earnslaw. The three-day excursion had us navigating across a river, sleeping in a cave, exploring a high mountain ridge…and reading poetry out loud while snacking in the evening sun.

Spirit in a Strange Land: A Selection of New Zealand Spiritual Verse is the poetry collection I took with me on the journey (purchased at Christchurch’s Scorpio Books—see previous “Down and Out” post for more about that). I bought this book because I find poetry easier to read in the often-chaotic throes of travel, and I also enjoy reading things that explore connections between nature and theology.

Spirit in a Strange Land is divided into sections grouped according to theme, and I found the most pleasure in a section called “Book of the Land,” which seems to be the collection’s most nature-centric group of poems. Noteworthy in this section is Bill Sewell’s “Sutton”:

A landscape which lets us let go of time.
Rocks which might be ruins, but are not:
far older, they have twisted their shadows
away from the sun and held back time.

everything slows down there (excepting time)
into a routine which has no tedium:
parts of the day for assembling, for gin,
steak, Scrabble; others for ambling away—

To vegetable patch, siesta, the hunt for rabbits
or mushrooms; whatever. Like the rocks these
are constants, however quickly they vanish—

So we can understand, that in the summer,
when it’s time for the lamp at last, the light
wants to linger, making the far land glow.

Now, imagine reading that while sitting on a stone and sipping tea at 2200 meters. The sun is flirting with jagged peaks on the horizon, and white clouds are set against a salmon sky. Waterfalls tumble down the cliffs on your left, and you can see across the valley where a landslide has taken a bite out of the mountain’s side. You’re getting chilly because you’ve been sitting for a long time on a cold stone, but you don’t want to move because you like it when you’ve got this kind of context for reading poetry.


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