Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The pancake and the stone

I am one of the throng visiting the "pancake rocks". Punakaki is famous for its "pancake rocks". Its "pancake rocks" bring in thousands of tourists every year. I look at them. It's true, they do look like pancakes made out of rock. Lots of them stacked on top of each other, like the ones I had in a diner in New York, but without the maple syrup.

But are these the only rocks on the coast? I think not. It's amazing how everyone, including myself, has descended on this bit of coast when there are literally thousands of miles of incredible natural elements to be seen. The reason we are here in Punakai of course is because some smart person gave these rocks a name. We all know what a pancake is so we can relate to this natural phenomenon. And now Punakai makes a lot of money.

It made me think. I think we give things labels primarily for survival, and later philosophy. Words speed up our ability to function in the physical world. If someone ran at you with a spear, questioning the nature of the spear wouldn't be much consolation while it's poking out the other side of your torso. If we spent all day analysing what is meant by a chair we'd probably never get round to sitting on it. So things get labels, or words, to speed up our comprehension of reality. Words provide generic meanings, and getting specific about a single entity can take up books of words. Nothing new there.

Two months later I scrabble up a mountain and put my foot on a stone about 30cm across. Everything about me stops. I put the pack down and look at the stone. At first glance there is nothing amazing about this stone. I have trodden over a million stones in my life, but there's something very strange about this one. I feel a huge connection with it, which is crazy because it is just a rock. I have no vocabulary to explain anything about the connection, other than it makes me stop for five minutes questioning whether there is something special about this stone or I'm just loosing my mind. The connection I have makes it the most incredible rock I have ever witnessed in my life.

If I hadn't "felt" it, I wouldn't have noticed it. This thought makes me look up and around. At this point in time I don't have words for anything else I can see. Maybe crude ones like mountains, glaciers, forest... some general features I can see even have pet names given to them by explorers. But all of a sudden I am hit by the things that don't have a specific name. Which is pretty much everything. And everything looks back, and laughs at my traditional thought process. Every other individual "rock" is insulted by my limited vocabulary, as is every individual "tree" and every individual "cloud". I am paralysed with wonder and cannot move for several minutes.

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