Friday, May 18, 2012
'Watch me,' Jamie Vinton'Boot calls out. He dinks at aquamarine-hard ice with his tools, his front points scratching above the obsidian depths of a sepulchral crevasse. 'All good mate. You're looking solid,' I shout back. The rope slivers over the narrow ramp of glacier beneath my feet. Jamie hasn't placed an ice screw yet. If he slips now, he'll pendulum right into the crevasse. There's water dripping somewhere. I feel a sudden, voyeuristic urge to peer into the darkness of the deep cleft below. My friend talks to himself, his muttered words lost across the chasm. Should I offer more encouragement? When I was younger, I realized one day that the more animated my belayer came as he extolled my leading virtues, the more dire the situation actually seemed to him. I try again: 'Just take your time, Jamie. No rush.' But this isn't right either. Early morning sunlight has already arched over the remote Stevenson Glacier. And forty kilometers to the west, a dark, thickening cloud oozes in from the edge of the Tasman Sea. The day is getting away from us, and we haven't even reached the start of our proposed route.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
It’s not every day your life flashes before your eyes. I was walking along a busy urban street in New Zealand’s second largest city, drinking a cup of takeaway coffee, glancing up towards the sky and wondering if I could squeeze a surf in before dark. The wind looked promising, and a few rays of insipid sunlight were trying to squeeze through the cloud cover. Without warning the ground lurched violently. Chunks of masonry sheared off tall buildings overhead, smashing onto the footpath inches away. Along with thousands of others all across Christchurch, I was thrown to the ground. Some, like I, tried to regain our feet to avoid the falling concrete and exploding windows, only to be knocked over again. Others remained foetal on the ground. Shop frontages blew out and then whole buildings started collapsing, like a scene from a bad Spielberg movie that we were stuck in the middle of. But it was the noise, an unfathomable, sonorous roar from deep within the earth that stuck in my mind. It sounded like the world was tearing itself apart. Twenty seconds of terrifying, destructive chaos, time enough to take the lives of scores around me, annihilate half of Christchurch’s Central Business District and damage nearly every building in a city of 400,000. The street I had been walking along was now choked with dust and debris, and completely unrecognisable. My favourite café where I purchased the coffee from minutes earlier was a pile of bricks, along with my favourite bookshop on the other side of the road. And amidst the immediate aftermath of sirens, alarms and cries for help from people trapped in destroyed buildings, I realised that life would never be the same.