Rain in Doom: The Tongariro Crossing and Round the Mountain Track, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand, March 21-27

    

This trek was an orbit— around a volcano, around an ensnaring storm, and around a companion. We began with the Crossing, before our wilderness was augmented not only by solitude but by wetness and shroud. The earth was living in sulfur and steam vents, Emerald Lakes appearing below us by a trick of the eye as the week's fog descended.     

       

  

Ruapehu means 'throwing rocks,' and when we turn onto the narrower trail which encircles the highest of the volcanoes, we are in a place where things have arrived where they are by being thrown. One thousand meters above us is Crater Lake, dammed in by volcanic debris and fed by glacial melt. 

   We could almost have walked into Rangipo hut before seeing it through the white fog. That night I feel like I am on another planet— a desolate volcanic desert-scape with inhuman winds and interminable dark, where I become a child again listening to each assailing sound as the hut shakes and the fire dies out. 

    

We drink ginger tea in the morning and pull a mattress in front of the wood stove fire. Today is a gift, Keaton says. The wind is all-consuming and the gusts sear to 100kph. We pee out the window, which I'm prepared for by having peed off the gunwales of a sailboat under way.

We read and talk, eat lentil soup and fall into sleep. My words, food, companion, warmth and awe are all at an arm's reach. I dream of the red view, then stand on the porch at the red view, the mist against my afternoon softness. 

   

There is a joy in seeing the distance when the storm clears not because it is spectacularly beautiful, but because it is our own world, the one around us, continued. It has an independent brokenness— the way the skirt of the volcano folds into mountains, the gorged valley eroded like steps, rocky desert mars for on and on. It's fracture is its own, not the one we create by being in a certain foggy place and not another. 

The deep quiet of the evening is what I hoped for in the height of the storm, to tell us not that we are on a volcano in a desert moonscape hours from the nearest person and there are so many ways to become smithereens, but instead to tell us that we are on a volcano and this is right because while the earth shakes and slams and licks away life, right now it has paused, long enough for us to hear each others' breath rise and fall and the high tinking of aged crackling coals. 

    We leave Rangipo when the sun is so strong it pricks our skin. It isn't long in the red desert before the sloppy rain begins again, and such long pounds come from above I wonder if we should seek shelter for lightning or high ground for an eruption. The wet rocks I grab are still warm from the sun, as if they had stayed warm since their creation. 

    That is the first day we see the peak of Ruapehu, the shape of which had long been organizing the intent of our days. Mangahuehu glacier emerges out of air and means something important about faithfulness, about the awe of discovering the true existence of what we couldn't yet see. 

    We are alone again at Mangahuehu hut, and only see one traveler going the other direction among those three stormy days. We play cards as golden light slants across the room, then write by candlelight. We dance as the water boils and make lists of adventures to come. 

Our last day snakes us through crossing five hip-deep, swollen, muddy, rushing creeks. In Okahune everyone seems to be without shoes and we narrate our life like García Márquez, because after the three years' rain no one in all the town wore shoes, for they were drying in the sun in the town square for one whole year. 

I have thought of New Zealand as a land of seeing things far away, of huge vistas. These days instead asked me, with grace and violence, to see what is beside me, what is underfoot and what is at hand.