Sunday, January 8, 2012

Katikati’s haiku pathway

New Zealand may be a damp place, but its public artworks in places like Katikati make Australia’s Big bananas and their ilk look like civic design by Year 2. I took myself off at Christmas-time to the eastern coast of the north island to visit this town, near Tauranga, so that I could walk its haiku pathway with Marianne. The town is renowned for murals, and we found all kinds of other artworks. In front of the info centre where we called in to ask for directions, a man was sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper. Only his face was bronze -coloured, the rest of him in white metal clothes. Beside him was a small terrier with a ball, undistractable in metal.

According to the interpretive sign we read later, the haiku pathway was the brainchild of Catherine Mair. It follows the Uretara stream (why are there streams in NZ, not creeks? Does a creek vanish in dry times? Streams however are constant here.) The stream allowed the Irish to land and settle here ( not sure what happened to the Maori). This is her haiku, carved into a large river boulder:

nearly tripping me
round my feet
the monarch butterfly

The info centre lady directed us behind the library, past the mosaic work flourishing around the childrens’ play equipment. The first haiku stone was on the corner of the library and it was carved in a beautiful italic script. Marianne especially liked the second one we came across. She’s just completed the Hollyford track in Fiordland, with her walking companions, but is left with a soreness in her foot.
We limped down the stairs towards the stream, she with her aching foot and me with my tender knee. We had our raincoats on for the drizzle that threatened. We came to an open park area, with a concrete path winding along beside the stream and the haiku boulders at strategic intervals. Willow trees were scattered here and there. At the crook of the stream, ducks paddled, looked at us and began to climb out and up the bank. Their hopefulness gave way to caution, and they retreated back into the water. Another duck in the distance made a “V” swimming towards them.

All the haiku on the stones have been previously published, and were chosen from collections.William J Higginson was at the bottom of the stairs - the editor of so many collections.

I loved this. It’s a haiku with much resonance - not easily understood. Those were my favourites on the walk. You could come back to them at a later date and revolve them in your mind. We wandered along reading the haiku. In some places the stones were blank, and had simply been arranged into beautiful arrangements. It brought to mind a story I read about zen master Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Francisco Zen Centre. In transplanting zen from Japan to the U.S. he also brought a very fine aesthetic - he sweated and laboured over the particular placement of a stone at Tassajara zen centre.

Marianne and I compared notes: did we like this one or that one? She found a haiku spread on one line, about a heron flying along the water, too anorexic. But I rather liked the image. Further along haiku bricks had been set into the path. These were haiku that had been chosen from a competition. It was good to be able to make a comparison with those that had been through a double layer of selection. Some of them, such as :

‘conversion -
the ray of sun strikes
between the goal posts’

is too obscure for me, because I don’t know enough about rugby, the national passion. We talked about this. Is there a wry comment about something here, that I am missing? But does it matter that I don’t get it? Thousands of aficionados of the game will. We talked about what ‘conversion’ means. My apologies to the poet of this witty haiku if I have not quite got your wording. My camera ran out of poop, and also I could not read your name on the brick.

We came to a place where there was a mounting for a bridge. This might be the spot where a rather lovely little pedestrian bridge had been, removed because structural flaws were found in it recently. the bridge would have taken you to the other side of the stream where the pathway continued towards the highway. We wandered on, reading the paving stone haiku and the boulder haiku, delighted by the stone which faced the housing development on the other side of the stream:

on the farmlands
new homes
slowly rising

Patricia Prime NZ

It sums up a whole complex of things in 10 syllables. Fantastic. I thought I could see across the stream into one of these comfortable houses, through the tinted glass to someone at a kitchen bench.

We found another undernourished haiku all in one line. Marianne said, “If I had a kid in my class who wrote that, I would think about it overnight and come up with a line for it in the morning”. For my money, the haiku that sets the scene but not too specifically, and then leaves a lingering haze in my mind, which is not quite in focus, is the best. It conveys mujo, impermanence, and how provisional things are - like the bridge, and the names of authors on haiku bricks. But this one

“A breeze and then my mind wanders on”

(a poet from the US, apologies sir, I didn’t write your name or haiku down correctly.)
is vague but commits what I consider to be a haiku sin. It is rather too self-conscious. There is great awareness of consciousness but little of nature.

We had by now walked through town, crossed Highway 2, walked past another mural being put up and the seal carved from a huge lump of wood with a chainsaw, and back down to the stream. The path here blends haiku with a bird walk.The beginnings of it have both haiku stones and sculptures - to my delight, the first sculpture was the karearea or native falcon, life-size, and there was an interpretive sign. They are ‘acutely threatened”, and can do 230kms per hr, when hunting. They take birds, but also rats, rabbits, mice. My haiku, for what its worth:

A hawk surveys
the path and stream
for smaller pickings

Here’s a link to the website for the pathway:

We didn’t see it all. It is something you could return to, and wander and ponder. There are benches placed everywhere too, for picnics and just sitting and gazing. In the distance the Kaimai mountains were wreathed in cloud. Here is a haiku by one of the best (in my opinion) Australian haiku poets, Janice Bostok, who sadly passed away last year:

sleeping horse -
angled bones lean
into the summer sun