Photography by Devon Butler
I think about William Wordsworth most when I’m laying lethargically across my couch, staring aimlessly into a bright television set. I suppose it should affect me differently; like when I’m trekking across a beach to spot a colony of yellow-eyed penguins, or silently gazing up at the Southern Cross. I should feel a jerk of emotions, calmness and retrospection. I should embrace the legacy of the romantic poets who paint the ideal portrait of escape and enchantment. Yet when I’m encompassed by exotic and serene landscape, I feel unsettled. I have to remind myself that soon, I will be back in that familiar groove in my overstuffed brown couch staring blankly ahead wishing I was somewhere meaningful.
I can’t help feeling that I’ve disappointed Wordsworth, and all the other writers who’ve discovered the healing powers of nature. I didn’t embrace the moments; I didn’t savour the scent of crisp mountain air. I didn’t find myself, or my life’s purpose.
I can never seem to walk out my door into an unpredictable world without some struggle. I watch the leaves change colour safely from a streak-free window or the back seat of a car. I observe the snowy caps of mountains from a plane window, as I jet past, on my way to somewhere else. I walk through jungles of concrete, tough pavement and indifferent people, wondering what it would be like to hear nothing but wind brushing against tired leaves and the gentle baas of sheep.
If I’d never known development, technology, and expanding population maybe I’d be more content in an insulated brick building. If I had grown up playing in trees and forests instead of on plastic slides and monkey-bars, maybe I wouldn’t be so disillusioned. I could be planted on the ground, instead of high above, on a metal swing. I wouldn’t feel more comfortable on a grey day wrapped in a hand-knitted blanket but would long to splash about in the rain without the worry of getting wet.
I’m disenchanted. I’ve lost the connection I should have to the land which sustains me.
And still, I have little concern for threats about respecting the land. Global warming is a sham, surely. I have little belief recycling has any benefits and ‘going green’ has become nothing more than a marketing ploy to appeal to the desperate humanitarian in consumers. Maybe some eager advertisement tells me that one person can make a difference towards a cleaner planet, but it isn’t in the hands of one person to ensure our earth is sustained, it’s in the hands of corporations and developers, politicians and scientists. It doesn’t matter how much recycling I do or whether I buy a reusable mug, trees will be continuously chopped down and oceans and rivers polluted by people with more power than I.
What can I possibly do for the world when I can’t even part from the comfort of my own house? When I feel overwhelmed by the unpredictability of the outside world and its future? I think back to when I was caressing the soft wool of a lamb in New Zealand; when I saw its powerful waterfalls, volcanic rock and eerie glow-worms. When I lost my breath on top a snow-capped mountain or felt the sting of wind splash onto my face from the Wellington harbour. I feel comfort. I feel optimistic. But it’s easy to feel this way when I’m living in yesterday, safely tucked under a blanket, removed and distant.
The legacy of great romantic writers couldn’t have reason to doubt my fondness for the outside world, however frightening it may be. For all I lack is appreciation; appreciation of the moment, of the world that allows for so many possibilities. This epiphany comes to me on a cloudy day, when I’ve already committed myself to an unproductive afternoon. It comes easy when I’m removed and unfeeling staring at photographs that don’t dare capture New Zealand’s rustic beauty. It comes too late.