What Once Was and Currently Is, Waitomo
by Chris Bowring
I hunger for adventure.
The entrance devours light.
Its darkness definitive.
Mystery invites; Witness stone in motion.
Sea beds of different millennia.
Tunnels dug with natural rage.
What indomitable hydra or defining challenge will you face?
A command to explore, to live.
A yearning from my soul.
Suddenly, floodlights reveal the cave.
I see its innards, stretch marks, wrinkles.
The silence sharp.
I hear nothing inside me. No call.
Land claimed and seen; That makes it less.
The experience dulled, tailored and neutered.
The tour begins.
What I seek is gone.
What I need.
What I hunger for.
The Backstory to Waitomo and I
Drylands, Waitomo Caves, Waitomo, New Zealand. Writer, Chris Bowring. Artist, Blake Li.
A normal day. The suburbs. I wake up and without a second thought my brain latches onto its digital tether. Thousands of posts, thoughts, irrelevant and addictive. Do I feel anxious or do I always feel like this?
I meet with Blake, my photographer/ partner. It’s a three hour drive to Waitomo. I hope we have enough to talk about, enough in common. I don’t want it to be awkward.
We get on just fine. We talk about photography, games, tv shows, storytelling, advertising, friends, studying, what comes next. Am I talking too much?
We drive past multiple billboards. Maybe I do need an Apple watch?
We arrive at the caves and commence the tour. I take notes. There’s too much information to remember. I’m trying to derive what I’m feeling emotionally in response to this place. What if I don’t come up with anything?
Next, a tramp through the surrounding bush. I hope it doesn’t rain.
Drenched, I take in my surroundings.
Competing sounds; the crunching of stones and dead leaves beneath my feet, the growing momentum of a river’s surge, the soft pummelling of water droplets on my bag.
Rain at home feels like a hail of bullets, a racket atop my roof, a barrage of gunfire on the concrete slabs. Here it feels friendly. It bounces off the leaves and coats lichen-absorbed trees before finishing its adventure to the soil. It feeds the hungry, a giver and friend.
There are no bright lights, decorative signs or desperate grabs for attention, the entire world is painted in the same fluffy green.
Blake and I don’t talk. We silently follow the path, clambering through crevices, huffing as the track steepens, taking pictures of limestone structures along the way. I look up.
There is a patchy quilt draped over the sky, letting in puzzle pieces of sunlight but not its whole picture.
I don’t think or feel. I have no commentary. I’m just noticing. I’m just being.
On this trip I realised the importance of our wild places. How we actually function differently in these environments. How they remove the business of our modern world. Allowing our brains room not to turn off, but to breath. It’s akin to meditation. Being in these places, in these states of mind, it’s important for our stability and connection. We can’t lose them. We need to cherish the place that birthed us.
I pledge to occasionally escape the modern world, to seek out spiritual rejuvenation in the wild places we take for granted and to protect them passionately.