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Olejnikov's art

Doubtful Sound, 8th March

Posted on 2014.03.15 at 01:43
Imagine a boat. Black water and high green cliffs. Trees halfway between Tolkien and rainforest. Grey skies.

The rain is constant. Moisture in the air that falls up as well as down. At the cliff tops waterfalls start and are blown off into mist before falling ten metres.

The Sound is long and feels narrow because of its length. The water, black because of tannins in the river water that pours in, flows in two layers. On top the two metre flow of river and lake overflow drives constantly out to sea killing all plant life in its path. Underneath the tides come and go, bringing saltwater fish; blue cod, crayfish, sharks; in and out of the Sound.

At the outlet by the Tasman Sea, Albatross circle the boat. The deck becomes the wall until the keel rights itself, and the people fishing off the end become covered in a mix of salt and fresh water. One of the passengers catches a Dogfish, then six Blue Cod in a row before ending her killing streak with a Terakihi. The raw, white flesh is served up with soy that night, unlike the bait fish who are thrown to the albatross, each of which paddle frantically across the water in an attempt to beat the seagulls who’ve taken over the prow.
Albatross are science fiction. They sit without moving around the boat, watching the fishing from shaded, cyborg faces until they decide to take flight. Like robots from Twenties futurist cinema they paddle mechanically across the water, clanking slowly into gear. But once they’re in flight they’re totally different creatures. The arc across the sky effortlessly, circling the boat and gliding across the thermals. Someone throws a fish back and one albatross dives, hitting the water with barely a splash, before rising to devour the un-reprieved fish in one gulp.

On the edge of the sea, where the water chops at the boat but the floor remains horizontal, seals drape themselves across rocks and roll in the shallows. There are times when you can barely tell the difference between the seals and the seaweed that rocks against the boat. Higher on the rocks two older seals bat each other around the head in an argument over who lies where. Further along, a solitary seal has curled up away from the rest. She raises her head as the boat motors past then drops it back under her tail, supremely disinterested, as we pass.

Back in the bay a pod of dolphins dive back and forth under the boat. They roll, belly up, along-side the keel then rise with a sigh and a pop like a champagne cork to swim alongside. One of the dolphins has a calf, and the two of them rise and fall alongside the boat before drifting off further into the Sound. As they jump out of the water you can see the stripes that cover their blue-grey backs, although the black tint of the water mostly makes them look yellow.

There are penguins too, but no stars, the endless rains blocking the sky out entirely. The rains have fallen for three months in the Sound, leading the skipper to mutter ominously about global warming. It’s the first week in autumn, but last week they woke to find the mountains covered in snow, leaving hikers stranded in storm shelters between huts overnight. The Kiwis drive everywhere, arguing distance and poor transportation as defence, but everything has its price. With the hole in the South Island’s ozone layer I burn through cloud cover and Factor Fifty.

The penguins at least seem unfazed. They hide in the tree cover on their roosting island and howl at the boat. The creepered trees make inhabitant monkeys seem more likely than penguins but one does eventually appear. Preening on the rocks its yellow crest makes it look like it’s off to some fiesta left behind by the Sound’s original Spanish explorers. Bedraggled in the rain, it takes one desultory look at the boat, shrieks, then disappears beneath the water.

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