From time to time, as the years have slithered softly by, I have had a recurring dream. It comes when my heart is closed. It comes when my heart is turned away. It comes when I have turned away from Life. It comes when I am on my hands and knees, crawling alone in Dark Places.
In this dream I am a small boy, walking up a path through the forest, between tall trees. I am barefoot, and the trail is soft and green. I can feel the cool moisture of silver-spattered dew sputtering up between my toes as I brush the whispering grass aside with my feet. The sun is somewhere up and to my right, beyond the canopy. It must be early morning, although it is at a high angle, so I presume it is summer. Shafts of light drift and swirl in softly purring yellows, and butterflies of many hues (but mostly blue), spin and totter in their buttery light.
The path is leading somewhere to the west (for some reason my dreams come with compass bearings), although I have no idea where it is going other than it is safe to be here. There are no wild animals to rend me limb from limb; no giant hairy spiders will drop onto me and inject me with their life-chilling venom, and there are no snakes to lead me in harm’s way.
It is warm, beautiful and idyllic. I could idle here forever.
As I continue up the path through the trees, in the distance I can hear people talking, a low murmuring as if they are talking behind their hands. The sound grows gently louder, maintaining volume but with little change in pitch. And it seems to draw closer. A flash of blue to my left, a dance of light. Ah. I am walking along the side of a small stream, half-concealed by the trees which grow right up to its fringe and lean curiously out over it, observing the sinuous litheness of its progress through the forest.
A few more steps and a few more corners, and then I emerge from the forest into a clearing. Above me, the trees have tilted back to allow the sky and sunlight clear passage to the earth. Soft mosses in bright greens and limes cover the ground down to the edge of the water. The bulk of the clearing is taken up by a crystal clear pool, so transparent that you can see the weeds gently waving to and fro on the bottom: small silver fish arc and twist and flash in glittering curves.
At the other end of the pool is a waterfall, perhaps three metres high. It emerges smoothly from the trees and gently tips over the rim and drops into the seamless mirror of the pond. Curiously it never breaks the smoothness of the water’s surface.
I sense an opening in the green mossed wall behind the waterfall. To reach it, I will need to swim across the pool. I lower my Self into the water and sink into its blue depths, becoming one with it. As I draw closer to the curtain of water and begin to pass beyond it, I can see something gold shimmering ahead of me, vibrating gently in the cool blue. I come closer and, there before me, is a doorway. Gold light is pouring out through it, inviting me to pass through it. I feel an unexpected heart-filling joy as I move through it into a gold world, where everything is gold and drawn in gold light.
Then I awake. I am back in Te Ao Kikokiko, the material world. Perhaps, one day, I will find a place like this in the outer world.
The Milford Road must be my favourite drive, one I think I could do every day for the rest of my life. The wide grin near Te Anau, as the road sweeps and swoops along the lake edge, flashing flickering glimpses of it as I drive, gradually closes in near the Eglinton Flat. Then, minute by minute, as I circle and dance my way up to the Homer Tunnel, the great slabs of mountain draw in, massive and foreboding, compressing me into a smaller self. They press dour thumbs down onto my psyche until I feel like an insignificant insect crushed underfoot by the sheer force of their presence.
However, on the way to Milford Sound, en route to my appointment with the toothpaste tube of the tunnel, there is a secret place, just to one side of the road. It is one of those secret, quiet places which lurks to one side in the shadow of its own anonymity and chooses when it will make itself known. Time and time again I have driven past it, totally focused on finding and stopping there and yet somehow missed it, only becoming aware of my error a kilometre or so down the road. It obviously hasn’t wanted my attention.
Now, if it is the day for a visit, I become aware of it some way down the road. I can feel it calling to me, pulling at my heart. Well, OK. I am coming.
So I am slowing down even before I get there and I check the traffic. It is the tail end of the tourist season and winter is beginning to prise the fingers of summer from the land. The tour coach numbers are thinning out, along with the mobile homes, backpacker vans, and karma drivers in bright blue Corollas who have clogged the roads for months, stopping everywhere (often suddenly and without warning) in their hunt for the Ultimate Instagram Selfie. The chill of autumn is sweeping them back to their homelands and the deep eternity of the mountains is slowly rolling back down into the valleys.
I park, step warily out of my car and get out my cameras.
The dew is still fringing the grasses. A small pond lies there, with trees ringing it and holding any wind from disturbing its mirror surface. At the western end, in a small clearing, a single beech tree is backlit by the last of the afternoon sun up and to the right. Without thinking, I take off my shoes. I want to walk barefoot, swishing my feet through the whispering grass and feeling Tāwhiri’s tears washing my feet. I want to root myself in the earth and in the wisdom of trees. Insects dance in the light and birds call from back in the forest. I carefully step around the gossamer hexagons of nursery spider webs, until I am at the edge of the pool.
I crouch down and sit, my feet in the water. I am a boy again. And, beyond the silent pool, below the blue mountain, beneath the shimmering sky, in my viewfinder the gold tree is opening a doorway to another world.
A fairy world.
Nau mai haere mai ki Te Ao Patupaiarehe.