Basho’s wandering as an old man absorbing nature, visiting the sources of his hero’s writing, and doing an occasional poetry slam with drunk mates seemed like my idea of an enlightened old age. The ‘Travel Sketches’ book’s intense poetry and honest open prose is a good travelling ‘companion’. When I was younger this book came with me on lots of trips while I was trying to feel an edge, mostly picking it up before sleep at night to carry it into dreams. There are a few rolls of Super 8 called ‘Narrow Road’ in my boxes, this below is one of them. My YouTube caption says
“First we had to drop the cat off (where?) and then we visited my home town Walwa and my primary school across the border in Jingellic. Then we walked over Mt Kosciusko ending at Lake Albina in the dark, and woke up to a helicopter bringing in LP gas and warnings of coming snow storm, and walked out via Blue Lake track. There’s so much stuff in this that needs explaining I think it’s a job for the website (or a voice over). Music is licensed from AudioBlocks. Thank you Margaret for indulging my nostalgic revisit to my childhood home and taking the images of me. The filmstock was Ektachrome 64, grainy and it was under-exposed. I pushed it in the Reflecta+ transfer.”
See below for that ‘explanation’ I promised.
Here are the much quoted opening paragraphs from this book by Basho (thanks to Wikipedia) and a PDF version I found online from a different translator. It seems Basho scholars love offering different interpretations. Once you’ve set up the journey, the collected poems – haiku at the back of the book are the source of travel contemplation.
“The months and days are the travellers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.
Last year I spent wandering along the seacoast. In autumn I returned to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs. Gradually the year drew to its close. When spring came and there was mist in the air, I thought of crossing the Barrier of Shirakawa into Oku. I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all but deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.
I patched my torn trousers and changed the cord on my bamboo hat. To strengthen my legs for the journey I had moxa burned on my shins. By then I could think of nothing but the moon at Matsushima. When I sold my cottage and moved to Sampū’s villa, to stay until I started on my journey, I hung this poem on a post in my hut:
kusa no to mo sumikawaru yo zo hina no ie
Even a thatched hut
May change with a new owner
Into a doll’s house.
There’s not much of the Zen Buddhist search for enlightenment in this film, and the film poetry is just a narrative. There’s a bit of ego in the bits where I took Margaret back to see where I grew up and went to school, and asked her to film me. The photo’s have captions added, if I was a poet, I’d have done them as haiku. There is an expanded description of those sequences in the film, for the archive. I don’t like the music to this anymore, it seems trivial.
Lake Albina is the star in this post which has a black and white video, called ‘Suitcase’ of another visit.
Like Basho, I was leaving this house in Burwood, (it had belonged to my parents who sold it to a friend who was happy for me to rent the back shed as a bedroom studio). The cat was being taken to live with my sister Jill and it was agitated. It roamed the car and mewed all the way to ‘Doreen’. It escaped from their house the first time the door was left open, and disappeared for weeks, and was sadly given up for dead. Then it came home and stayed, until it died of old age.
The signpost in Walwa gives you an idea of how you might get to the town. It doesn’t point you to Wodonga or Albury, but that was how we got always there from Melbourne. I always remembered Albury as being the closest ‘big town’, it was were you went to see the dentist, get glasses, buy a new fridge. It’s about scale.
The Jingellic Community Hall was the social heart for our parents, I remember my mother dressing up for dances and ‘balls’, Dad in a suit and tie. Mum would make all her own dresses. I would often go to sleep with the sound from the lounge room of the Singer sewing machine clattering up a hem. No babysitters, so we kids were dressed in pyjamas and dressing gowns and were supposedly sleeping in the car. We actually ran around in the dark with the other kids. Kissed school girlfriends and felt through flannelette. Someone knocked the hall down a few years ago, but it features in some other film reels, gradually decomposing.
Mum felt we ‘needed’ church. I think it was her social standing in the district. Services were held once a month, when there was a visiting minister. Sunday school was held outside on sunny days, we only needed one long pew to fit all the kids. Not many. We sang ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’ in the sun.
Play equipment for a country school was simple, I remember a see-saw that was always fought over. There were maybe basketball rings. The community hall in background was the place for our school concerts, and visiting events that were deemed educational.
Shelter sheds are places of myths and legends. Was it that you couldn’t be seen from the teacher having lunch? It protected a whole school (twenty kids?) from winter rain, and it was the source of liaisons with first girl-friends. And fist fights. When it was really cold we stayed inside, stoked up the wood heaters in the two rooms of the school. The ‘big kids’ were allowed to chop the firewood, like they did at home probably, no fears of axe accidents.
The three rain tanks were the only source of water, there was no reticulated ‘town’ water in Jingellic. Nor was there a flush toilet at school, just a pit that smelled, then a creosoted ‘dunny can’, I think. I got the strap from one teacher because, during a game of hide and seek I pissed behind a tree so I could stay instead of being found. Someone told and I said “Yes I did it”. I don’t remember a lot of discipline, I do remember standing waiting for the strap, or a cane.
Looking back to our house from the Factory office, the vandals broke the windows and other stuff as soon as it was vacant.
This is weatherboard home where I grew up. When we first moved their it was a big verandah-ed house that was an original managers house, the best they could offer the new engineer, my father. Then three newer houses were built for the accountant, manager, and us. My brother and I shared the bedroom, centre window. My father built us a secret trapdoor in the floor, under the mat.
Chairs that rotate, a novelty. You can spin in this until you fall out, giddy, into broken glass. We did.
A caped crime fighter (and his faithful sidekick younger brother – resenting being ‘Robin’), a silhouette to strike fear in criminal hearts as they used their Bat Ropes in the rafters. Mum made us costumes, the cape was the big deal.
Margaret: that sun was nice behind your hair, can you walk out again? Ohhh, Please?
In Walwa. ANZ bank. The banks closed first, then the town did.
Post office, site of old bakery. We knew the young baker and his wife, they couldn’t make it pay.
A gun-dealer is where where you can buy film, get a haircut and get processing back in a week (or so.)
The Walwa Butchers, back from the abattoir with a station wagon full of the town’s meat supply for the week.
His wife, running to open the door.
It’s ok old woman, it’s too early to change from the dressing gown. Who is going to see down your hall through the screen door?
Norm gave me my first ‘bought’ hairdo. Basin cut, just like my father did. I told my mother that it didn’t hurt like Dad’s cuts did.
Diggers Golf Day – afternoon tea is provided. Teenagers dance (get your mum to bring a plate)
The Walwa Hotel. Accommodation available. The shared bathroom and toilet down the hall.
Stock and station agent, and at this time, the town’s single petrol bowser.
Our family doctor, Dr. W.J. Adey – no visiting hours any more?
The Mercedes was the Doctors ‘main’ car, for house and homestead visits.
His other car, was a Lamborghini that he drove very fast each morning, the less than a kilometre down the street to the hospital.
Walwa and District Bush Nursing Hospital. I ‘lived’ there for a month or so with glandular fevers that made me faint.
The Walwa General store had it all. It smelled of hessian bags and saddle leather. My mother worked there as a bookkeeper for years.
On the Store verandah, always an old dog in the sun who likes to be patted.
Cafe / newsagent, this is where you bought milk shakes and Batman comics, and the daily papers after the bus delivery the day before.
The Whitlam Government was re-elected at the 1974 double dissolution election. We were there, so it says, 20 May.
Margaret checks her uni results. We did the crossword together.
A hall to remember the war, and watch war movies and westerns at the picture show on Saturday night. To get to the projection box in the Memorial hall, you had to climb a vertical ladder. It deterred small kids from visiting, unless you were Batman and Robin and your dad was the projectionist.
Pine Mountain, just out of Walwa. Our closest ‘real mountain’, important, massive grey granite rockface on a red granite base.
Margaret, asleep in sun while cameraman films mountains, she was startled by camera noise.
The camera stare is returned in reflection, the look is made beautiful.
Autumn Leaves in Khancoban camping ground,
A young woman with hair the colour of autumn.
Other travel essentials
Needing more than Basho to read on the journey you take Batman and Thoreau.
The first views of the Kosziusko range, ancient, weathered are boringly bare in summer. They’re old hills worn down. Still as high as we have around this continent.
Parked the car, and hiking in, late afternoon. Will we be lost, caught in the dark? Cold. Beautiful.
Around us, evening mists fold in
The streams and wet grass throw out a fog. It is much colder now.
We need to hurry, but can you film me please, crossing the start of the Snowy River?
Mountain stream at dusk, footsteps the only noise. Mountain stones clatter.
Light falling fast, stumbling, must get to the Albina Hut before dark.
From the Hut window, morning over Albina Lake
A helicopter, Park wardens bringing LP gas, and severe weather warnings of being snowed in.
We decide to leave early to walk out via Blue Lake track.
On this the narrow road, there’s a searcher in her Driza-bone
This high walk, is bush walker famous for its small lakes, and panoramic views.
The path, frosted. Water running under the ice. The narrow road then becomes an iced over stream, yet strong enough to walk on. Cracking.
On grass edges, water pushes through the frosted soil in frozen fingers. Melts during the day. Repeat.
Last winter’s snow (?) hides from the sun in shadowed places until renewed.
“It’s beautiful how the hills layer into the distance”.
Yes, I was just filming that.
Blue Lake, brown in this Ektachrome film colour balance.
Advice is stay close to the mountain
Back to the ridge, heading to the car, safe to leave parked overnight near Seaman’s Hut.
Driving home (via Ovens Valley?) where they are still droving cattle with horses, along the road edges is the best grass. The long paddock.