Hiking rocky coastlines—I never tire of it. Our friends Tom and Frances Preston feel the same. Their favorite spot is less than a five-minute walk to the shore from their hillside Wellington home on Miramar Peninsula. They’re on sabbatical from Washington State University. When we visited NZ’s capital city, the four of us tramped the glorious Breaker Bay outcroppings.
I’m not talking rock climbing—just easy scrambling across rocks. Every so often you heave-ho and hoist yourself up to another level by whatever means emerges. Unlike the bucolic passivity of beachcombing, rock scrambling is a full body sport.
Finessing awkward leg and feet movements requires a modicum of muscle and energy—not to mention a sturdy nerve—if you get wedged between wave-sloshing rocks with your body twisted opposite the direction of your feet. Or if pressed tummy-flat against rock, your feet dangle, unable to find a foothold because you forgot where you put your feet on the way up.
Seriously, it’s a visceral experience, being at one with the smell and feel of these rocks that were wrenched from the seafloor, and since time immortal, repeatedly tossed, buried, warped, cooked, cooled, rolled and folded. Erosion coupled with ru whenua (Maori= shaking of the land) resulted in exquisitely textured configurations. From macro view to micro details, each fresh glimpse evokes a bit of artistic delirium: crinkly crusts, jagged fractures, serpentine fissures, honeycombed matrices, smooth contours, molded bubbles.
Ruaumoko, the Maori earthquake god, presides over Wellington, which sits at the southern tip of NZ’s North Island. It’s the only NZ city built on a bed of Triassic Greywacke (hard grey sandstone), which formed beneath the sea over 230 million years ago. Living on several fault lines, people here get accustomed to the shakes, more or less, since the tremors are typically too slight to notice.
But the city has endured colossal earthquakes and is long overdue for another. A massive shake in 1460 lifted the seabed and connected the NZ mainland to Miramar Peninsula, once the off-shore island Moturkariango. Another quake in 1855 thrust up the land around Wellington harbor nearly 15 feet. Indeed, geologic records indicate the peninsula has no less than eight Holocene palaeo shorelines, which sounds mighty impressive to this neophyte.
If I were to pick another profession in my next life, I’d be a geologist. As it is, I’m always grappling for facts about the origins of rocks I’ve seen, like those at Breaker Bay. But then, I tell myself, it’s not just the rocks; it’s what these geologic vestiges speak of—the rough and tumble miracle of earth’s creation. Perhaps it’s enough to just love the unsolved questions, as Rilke says:
… like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the question now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.