Authors: Jack Lasenby
Through a world of snow I dug a trench to the big cave. Jak, Jess, and Trick came out, slithering, barking at the white stuff. The donkeys trod down a track to the creek. The sheep drank more than usual because of the dried grass.
I fed the animals in the open, when possible, and built feeding racks in the cave to stop waste through trampling and fouling. Still I spent much time forking out muck-coated hay to a heap outside and carrying in fresh stuff. I learned how hard a Farmer must work to keep animals inside.
There were long days of snow and rain, others when the sun shone and Jak led the animals. They ran and looked for fresh feed but liked returning to the warm cave, redolent of dried grass, dung, their sweet breath. The dogs slept beside the donkeys. When the wind off the mountains struck like a dagger, I wore a cloak over my tunic, a woollen cap, and slept in the big cave, too.
All winter I kept the fire going in Hagar’s cave, spun, dyed, and wove. A stack grew of blankets, rugs, lengths of material.
I wondered how the old painters made their bright colours. I collected deposits from the hot springs, soils and clays, ground them in one of the rock basins, and mixed them with fat and fish oil. With wool and goat hair brushes I painted a Travellers’ encampment: tents, cooking fires, children playing; the Animals’ Dance, the Stag Man, the Dog Man; and somebody dying in the Narrower Ford. I painted massacre in a steep-walled gully; a girl and her baby.
Using long sticks I daubed a woman’s life across the roof. A flower-girdled child she led sheep. A young woman she leapt in the Animals’ Dance, poisoned her husband, left her father behind by a river he could no longer cross. Her face sharpened, haggard-eyed; her nose curved until her head became a hawk’s. A polished spindle descended from bent hands; yarn looped her shoulders. She told stories, hobbled, and was left behind by her cruel son in an empty valley. She gathered lichens, bark and leaves, dyed wool and yarn, and wove on wooden looms. All Hagar taught and told me, I painted.
I painted a crone with many hawk heads, many breasts, and many hands, who held out food and love and learning to all the world. I surrounded her with sheep, goats, donkeys, with Bar and Mak, Jokey, Whitey; Nip, Jak, Jess, Trick, and Het. I painted the bows and arrows, the knives and axes, the shears, the scythe; wool in fleeces, yarn in skeins and balls, and woven into cloth. And last I painted the beaked crone dead, eyes great as a hawk chick’s beneath a wreath of dried seeds and dark leaves, the dry husk of a girl’s flower-bedecked corpse beside her.
Travellers leave no memorials, Hagar once said, yet I recorded the life of an old woman and a boy who limped beside her. So when Nip died beside the fire one wolfish night I painted how I stole her from the wild litter, how she became part of the Journey which is made of many Journeys.
I knew now the pictures were never going to finish. I painted trees around the walls of the cave, trees that would shelter and warm and feed the animals and us. Softening the sun’s rage, bringing rain. I painted the dead city of Orklun, alive again beneath a canopy of trees, its great river cleansed of poison, running one way and then the other, emptying and filling.
Frost broke down the soil of my garden. Remembering
something Dinny said, I dug into it the heap of fouled hay that steamed and was already turning to earth thick with worms, smelling good enough to eat.
The soil was warm to my fingers as I planted the seeds. They came through as the first green blush showed across the creek. We had an early spring below the Hawk Cliffs. The tilted uplands were lifeless still.
The days grew longer. The animals ran to wrench green shoots. Sleek, shining-eyed, they fattened. Lambs, kids, and foals leapt. Het’s pups scrambled and fought for her dugs. Birds sang. Leaves flourished. The blue lake jigged, reflected a thousand suns. All night I dreamed of Tara. All day I thought of Tara.
A Traveller’s life is hard, but a Farmer is busy all day. I examined my plants for growth each morning, chopped and hoed a multitude of weeds, and moulded soil around the growing potatoes as Dinny had shown me. I outsmarted the goats who nickered and plotted getting through the fence. When the sun dropped behind the rim of hills across the lake, I bedded down the animals and found I had spent all of another day gardening.
I loved being a Farmer and Gardener, I said to Hagar, told her how the flock had grown, how the garden and grass were going to feed us through next winter and the next. In dreams I saw her with the Stag Man, and the Dog Man. I asked them questions and waited days before they returned in dreams with answers. It was exciting, a satisfying life, I told Hagar, but sometimes I forgot to keep working, and loneliness rocked me with its agony.
I dreamed of Tara. One night in my sleep I heard her calling, “Ish! Ish!”, saw her holding out her arms. Then the Stag Man appeared and bellowed. It was the sign I had been waiting for. I heaped more soil over the potatoes, spread the garden with straw, strengthened its fence, and hung dried fish and meat in the cave.
Last snow rimmed the Hawk Cliffs white as Jak led in Bar’s old place, and I brought up the rear. Het’s pups tumbled alongside till they tired, and I slung them in a basket.
I was going to get Tara, talked to her as if she was already there. She was waiting for me to bring her back to the Hawk Cliffs. I wanted to feel her body against mine, to tell her of Hagar, to show her the Painted Cave, the cliffs, the lake. Dinny would come, too, and Sim and Petra. They could have a pup each. We were going to be a family.
We were going to dig a bigger garden, plant an orchard, grow trees around our grasslands. One day we might even fulfil the old dream of the Travellers, go north to Orklun, and plant trees.
As we neared the Swapping Ground I imagined how Tara would look, the sound of her voice, felt her hand in mine, wondered what to say, tried words aloud. The donkeys turned their ears, the dogs looked up and grinned, and a hawk cried down the sky, “Kek! Kek! Kek!”
I looked at the animals, and they looked back at me. Their fathers and mothers looked through their eyes. I remembered old Bar and Mak, Speckly, Jak, Jess, Nip. Their lives went backwards and forwards in time, I thought. Even though we settled and became Farmers and Gardeners we would go on down the years. Because we were the Travellers.
“Come on,” I said to the animals. “We’ll find Tara.”
I smelled the sulphurous air of the mud pools and began to trot. The animals were excited, too. By the track a metal-headed arrow lay broken in white dust. I ran, one arm over a donkey’s neck to keep up. The blood drummed in my head: Tara, Tara.
Jak stopped, ears pricked, listened. The sheep pressed on him. He ran forward, stopped, head cocked, looking up at me, listening. Hearing voices, I supposed: Tara’s, Sim’s and Petra’s. Wondering why I didn’t hear them, too.
We were at the Swapping Ground. My face twisted as if it was going to cry, and I heard an old voice telling a story. A spindle rose and fell, twirling. I smelled wool grease, the sharpness of a herb she picked. Hagar who had been my companion, who taught me so I might continue the Journey. Hagar and I. Because we were the Travellers.
Jack Lasenby was born in Waharoa, New Zealand in 1931. During the 1950s he was a deer-culler and possum trapper in the Urewera Country. He is a former school teacher, lecturer in English at the Wellington Teachers’ College, and editor of New Zealand’s
Jack Lasenby held the Sargeson Fellowship in 1991, the Writer’s Fellowship at the Victoria University of Wellington in 1993, and was the Writer in Residence at the Dunedin College of Education in 1995. He is the author of many novels for children and young adults, including award-winning books
He has been the recipient of New Zealand’s most prestigious children’s fiction awards: the Esther Glen Medal, the Aim Children’s Book Award, and the NZ Post Children’s Book Award.
is the first title in the award-winning ‘Travellers Quartet’; it received an Honour Award in the 1998 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. The second title,
won the senior fiction category of the same awards in 1999.
the third title, was a finalist in the awards in 2000 and
the fourth was a finalist in 2002.
Jack Lasenby lives in Wellington where he cares for his much-loved garden. He’s presently writing a series about the notorious ‘Aunt Effie’.
I wrote this book with the help of the Victoria University of
Wellington’s Writer’s Fellowship, 1993, and the Dunedin
College of Education’s Writer’s Fellowship, 1995.
I am grateful to both institutions for their generosity.
First published with the assistance of
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior permission of Longacre Press and the author.
Jack Lasenby asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
© Jack Lasenby
ISBN 978 1 775532 30 9
First published by Longacre Press 1997
9 Dowling Street, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Book design and map on pages 6–7 by Jenny Cooper
Front cover design by Ana Terry
Printed by McPherson’s Printing Group, Australia