Exploring Brokenness in Christchurch

Orange vests fill the city of Christchurch. Blaring radios, scaffolding, traffic cones and chain-link fences abound. “Don’t walk there,” they say, “Go this way. Watch out for this falling building.” I’ve never been to a city so devastated by a natural disaster.

On September 4, 2010 the city—at the time, the second most populated in the country—experienced an earthquake with an epicenter in the nearby Canterbury plains. The quake caused widespread damage and the government declared a state of emergency, called in the New Zealand army and instated a curfew to keep people out of the streets and out of harm from the damaged buildings.

Kiwis are a resilient bunch. Over the coming months they banded together to rebuild their crumbled city until February 22nd, 2011, just over five months later, an aftershock with a magnitude 6.3 of struck with an epicenter just 10 kilometres southeast of the city’s downtown core.

The devastation was immense. Downtown essentially became a pile of fallen rubble. 185 people lost their lives and Kiwis left the city in droves—what little of it there was left to leave.

Now, five years later, construction continues. The city has been offered a unique opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. The “Garden City” is still there, behind lines of fence and tape, willing itself forward.

I arrived in Christchurch with a soaking wet tent strapped under my bag and a dead cell phone battery. Since I’d been camping in the rain and hitched my way to the city, I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to figure out just what I was going to do there.

After numerous failed attempts at couchsurfing, I checked a map for the closest hostel and booked myself in for a night. The Dorset House turned out to be clean, bright and soothingly familiar. Wooden engraved signs told me where to find the kitchen, toilets and other rooms, while helpful posters around the place educated me on the water supply. There was something about the place that reminded me of Yasodhara.

I spent the next couple of days wandering around the disaster-etched town. I knew a friend I met travelling was stationed there, so we spent a day checking out the alternative bookshops and a café co-op. The botanic gardens beckoned me to explore, and the huge park, lined with enormous trees, offered respite from all the orange reflective material in the downtown core.

One of the most significant buildings damaged and subsequently condemned is the Anglican Cathedral in the city’s central square. Built between 1864 and 1904, it stood as an emblem for the city for over a century.

As I gazed upon it’s cordoned off rubble, I couldn’t help but relate to the loss of a sacred space. The June 2014 fire that resulted in the loss of Yasodhara’s Temple of Light is still acutely in my awareness. The feelings of relating were cemented when I walked through the maze of closed-off streets downtown to find the transitional Cathedral. That’s right, the Cathedral is housed in a structure using the same language as we call the Transitional Temple. Not only that, but—similarly to Yasodhara’s transitional space—it’s been constructed using atypical building materials. This Cathedral’s A-frame construction is made from PVC pipes, corrugated plastic and shipping containers. The latter being Christchurch’s building material of choice since the earthquakes.

I spent some time at the memorial across the street for the 185 people who lost their lives in the quakes and then made my way to the door of the Cathedral. Marigolds lined the flowerbeds, bursting with other New Zealand flowers I couldn’t identify.

I paused as I rounded the corner to the front. Awaiting me was a massive triangle of colourful stained glass. This may be a transitional Cathedral, but there is thought and quality put into it. Beauty is a generous form of grace offered when the human spirit endures disaster.

As with anything on New Zealand’s South Island, the place was crawling with tourists. Two elderly women stood behind the glass-topped counter of the gift shop, answering questions and joking with one another. Their lightness an inspiring response to tragedy.

After taking in the majesty of the place, I browsed the shop and picked out a postcard, pulling the ladies from their lively conversation.

With the high cost needed for reconstruction, there have been loose plans for the Cathedral’s rebuild, but so far nothing has been implemented.

I left the transitional Cathedral and made my way South. I instinctively knew it was south because I was facing away from the sun—just another miniscule way I’ve become used to life in the Southern Hemisphere.

The previous day I’d fallen into a heart-felt and spontaneous conversation with the owner of a newly opened organic shop. She told me about a café downtown I wanted to try and we talked about starting fresh, the vibrancy after disasters and brokenness.

Existing like a quiet hum under the city is a layer of brokenness. I’ve come to understand that it was one part of the place that I connected with, even though I don’t feel as though I’m in a particularly broken part of my life right now. Instead, I feel like I’m rebuilding.

The tenacious spirit of those who stayed in the city is inspiring. I feel a connection with the fragility and uncertain nature of the place. At any moment, everything could change—another earthquake could bring everything crashing down. That sort of knowledge creates an intense sort of appreciation for what already exists. I feel glimpses of how powerful it is to live my life that way.

Eventually, I made my way out of Christchurch. The friend I visited there has spoken to numerous people who see it as some type of vortex—it pulls people in who want to leave but just can’t. I could feel how people might experience the city that way, yet for me it reignited a sense of purpose.

I came up with all sorts of daydreams for yoga classes I could teach there to bring healing to a traumatized people, but ultimately, I left. For now.

I take the momentum of rebuilding with me with gratitude for the connection I formed to the city.

Om Namah Sivaya

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Even transitions have transitions

In the slanted light of morning I sat outside this campground’s kitchen, slowly sipping my morning chai, just as I had done yesterday. Only today, the crisp bite of autumn didn’t hang in the air as long and the vibrant blue of this barren landscape’s sky was smeared with patches of warm-trapping cloud.

I’m in Wanaka.

Well, I’m very near to Wanaka and will likely hitch the ten kilometres there later this afternoon as I did yesterday. When I get there I’ll probably again be surprised at just how “flash” the town is. Tourist dollars pour into the village. Young trees have been planted at regular intervals, guided in their quest for the sky by the same monotonous metal casings. Each tree is lit from below by a light in the sidewalk shining upon the underside of their chlorophyll-depleted leaves. Beautiful. And flash.

Maybe today the most striking part of the town will be the newness of storefronts or the precision with which they have been constructed. Each waterfront café tries to outdo the next with elaborate rock walls and signage. There’s something about this place that makes me feel uncomfortable.

It could be the landscape and its eerily similar qualities to Southern Alberta. There are treeless mountains everywhere, like coulees on steroids. The bleakness is startling and I find respite on the quartz-rock shore of the lake—along with every other 20-something wondering what the hell they’re doing with their day life.

Yet there is a peace here for me. It’s in this massive sky; hanging up above me so close I can touch it. I’m held in this mountain-edged bowl. I know this part of the country was calling me to come here. So why do I feel so uncomfortable?

Mentally, I’m still transitioning out of work. My last day was over ten days ago, but going on that tramp filled my days with eight hours of walking and a glazy sort of monotony that replaced the continuity working five days a week provided. Now I’m not wandering in the bush. Now I don’t have a set schedule or structured routine. I have mental space and it’s making me squirm.

As the mighty van Lola galloped over the Canturbury plains into Otago, the region where Wanaka is, we listened to an audio book on Mantra. While the delivery of the subject didn’t appeal to me, there’s just something about the name of the Divine my cells simply respond to. I let my consciousness expand and tumble through the open fields, playing with Krishna. I’d bump into a mountainside, narrowly escaping a handful of butter He threw my way and then crash into one of the lakes, washing His chocolate off my face. Lola hurdled on.

I meant for this time to be my reward for a summer of hard work. I want to leisurely take in the Southern Alps and the space of this country. In typical Guenevere fashion, I worry about money and wonder if playing guitar and roasting a pumpkin qualify as worthy enough pursuits for one day.

I’m getting used to the lack of schedule. I’m getting used to the cold nights. I’m taking this as a wonderful opportunity to sit with any discomfort “being in transition” is bringing me and I’m waiting to see what Krishna will throw my way next.

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Poetry in the Woods

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Photo taken by Camden since I (purposely) didn’t bring my digital device

I went on a five-day tramp last week. To save weight I didn’t bring my journal, just my poetry book and confined myself to writing only poetry. It was a fun exercise—the writing restrictions as well as, obviously, the amazing tramp. Here are some of the fruits.

First night

Dormant in the dorm with
such freedom seeping in.
Freedom for the mountains and creek that
stand guard around me
surround me
confound me
roll out carpets for my feet.
I trod on.
Human, sweating, endless
I trod on
desperate for the thought I left behind,
For the rest that follows
deep rest,
undisturbed, 
for the mountains standing guard.

 

Pass the Haiku

Mountain top summit
Letting go of weight, I rest
Surrounded by You.

Sun lays in patches
Moving swiftly through valleys
Won’t you shine on me.

Peace. Silence. Breath.
I pause, listen with my heart.
Now I find my place.

Rock piled on rock
Patches of grass, of moss, shrubs
Everything in place.

The mountains still stand
They show signs of wear, and yet
They’ll outlast us all.

 

Hut Culture

silence filters through
muscles and sinew of those in the huts,
enabling relaxation.
silence after wind whistling through trees,
after water racing feet downhill
silence
silence and space
as if there weren’t enough in the 
air that rests on its shelf above a lake
or the triangles
between the triangles
of strongly rising earth

all of that can be forgotten now
ups and downs
wedges of flat edged with root where feet can press
and pull up bodies

these images release
with each cord of tension
with each unknotted thought
the silence seeps through

dinner hour lets murmuring return
water boils. utensils scrape.
trampers share their inner worlds
thoughts as majestic as a sunset
as a sidewalk

food unites, sustains
while light dissolves to dark
soon candles burst forth
in that fading between time
details jumps under thin spotlights
wanting to be seen
cards emerge
silence no longer reigns.