Flying Blind

We drove to Nelson Lakes
past Lake Rotoiti
up the mountain
gaining height
attained the carpark
secured the steely steed

Switch to Shank’s pony
chafing at the bit
thankful for head-start
Off at a canter
wending our way in-and-out
of bush, and up the hill

Quickly gaining altitude
pressing for the bushline
barren, tree-less, alpine
boulder fields
rock-strewn waste
searching for a flock of sheep

Invigorating alpine air
crossing rocks with care
scanning with our eyes ahead
searching for elusive beasts
bizarre as it may seem
we seek — ‘vegetable sheep’

Boulders are their home
and alpine sheep grow fleece
but they’re not fleet
nor bound to roam
They’re quite at home
as cushions in the alpine zone

In beautiful sunset
we found our sheep
and they were sweet!
Lizzie lingered long
loving the timeless land
But Time is not forgetful

Light faded into darkness
and we fled the vege flock
We crossed the barren boulders
with Time still on our side
We made the bushline too
but then … Time marched on

Beneath the shelter of the trees
pitch-black was plain to see
(in truth, ALL we could see)
We couldn’t see each other
nor even hand in front of face
How to leave this place?

I was the villain of the piece
my job now to find relief
In darkness I wondered if
alternative transport might befit
Resolved to literally chance
‘flying by the seat of my pants’

Taking weight off feet
I shuffle ahead, bum on path
Hands at side touching earth
Hoping to feel the way
Nigel following behind
I ease us through dark time

So we wend our way
in-and-out of bush
and down the hill
When ‘out’, we walk by moonlight
When ‘in’, I rely on touch
fully focussed, feeling…

Then the long dark — as
we push on through pitch-black
doubtful of distance and direction
Inching through black silence, then
slightly lighter… a large dark shape?
the Carpark sign — CELEBRATE!

— poem by Liz Cowburn, written today
recalling a walk we did 20 years ago
New Zealand.

Vegetable Sheep (Raoulia species)

Update 19 May: fyi these are also called ‘Cushion Plants’

Unusual plants with some species in the alpine zone having very woolly texture. They grow on boulders and therefore have a rounded shape, the woolly ones look much like sheep scattered among the boulders.

On this trip we’d set out specifically to find woolly forms of Raoulia growing in the wild. They were everything we’d hoped for, really amazing!

I don’t have photos of those we saw but here’s a couple of interesting photos taken at Mt Hutt in Canterbury by Nuytsia@Tas (two different Raoulia species):

Many thanks to Nuytsia@Tas on Flickr. Both photos cc by-nc-sa 2.0
Links to original files:   top photo   bottom photo

Text/poem by Liz; photos as attributed; Exploring Colour (2020)

23 thoughts on “Flying Blind

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    1. I really like their form and we’ve always hugely enjoyed the plant communities in the alpine zone, when we’ve climbed up that far! It’s a really special environment.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The ballad of an adventure – taking the reader on a journey – and for me, to places I’ve never seen before. Thank you, Liz! That’s awesome.
    Those vegetable sheep look amazing. I’ll have to look them up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Stefanie! I’m happy you enjoyed this journey and grateful for your encouragement, the ‘sheep’ are really worth the climb – they’re amazing to see!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I loved this adventure and felt like you took me with you on your return into a part that time has not forgotten. Some glories lines and I loved the descriptive ‘the bushline
    barren, tree-less, alpine
    boulder fields
    rock-strewn waste…’
    Oh that’s glorious! Bold and brave to be so barren! And what a find in the end! They look like furry baby cacti it something I would make at a craft fair! Just lovely liz 👏👏🌟💚☘️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks heaps for your visit Dami and for the feedback that I sought 🙂 You would have loved this adventure and the vegetable sheep are really awesome. Hope sometime you can see some of these for yourself! Many thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was there for both starts of this, the seat of the pants bit and poem-formation and I heard several dry runs of the poem, every time I heard

    They’re quite at home
    as cushions in the alpine zone

    I laughed out loud

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes he, nigel64, did! We both liked those lines hehe! What I should have explained above since many readers won’t know, is that these species are collectively referred to as “cushion plants” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is great, Liz! 🙂 I like that section, too, with you as the villain, flying by the seat of your pants. And “Lizzie lingered long/loving the timeless land/But Time is not forgetful” great alliteration.
    I’ve never seen any boulders, totally engulfed like that, the Blob That Ate Cleveland, I think it would be nice to NOT touch that in the dark. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Robert! Especially for sharing your thoughts … it’s so nice to get the feedback. Searching the Blob That Ate Cleveland offered interesting distractions, will have to re-visit that again. I ended up on a page about agricultural pollution at Lake Erie and sent the link to Nigel as it’s within his area of interest – pollution and run-off issue in the landscape.


      1. The Cuyahoga River runs through Cleveland, into Lake Erie, and was notorious years ago, for it’s staggering level of chemical pollution. It’s famous for actually catching on fire a number of times. As further distraction – there’s a number of songs, a very good brass band, a type of beer, etc. all referencing “Burning River.” Still a work in progress, but as of last year, people are allowed to eat fish from it again. But kind of off-topic from your poem, which tells a great story!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The “Burning River” thing has captured my attention, and imagination. A literal burning river, wow. I’m always happy to take a wander off topic! And thanks for your encouraging remarks about my poem-story, greatly appreciated.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, my… great telling of your adventure, Liz! Glad there were no lasting wounds from bumping around in the dark and you got to see those veggie sheep.

    Loved the line “I was the villain of the piece…”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Holy Cow! Or, come to think of it…shimmering sheep! When I finished reading your entire poem, before looking at any of your images, I was sure that you had been seeking out some variety of ovines–admittedly, the emphasis on vege(tarian, I thought) was a bit confusing, and suitably misleading but, of course, that was your intent. I don’t think I’ve seen these in any of my NZ wanderings, and I’m pretty sure I’d remember if I had. What a delightful tribute to a 20-year-old memory!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for that, Liz, these plants remind us very much of the stonecrop that grew on rocks in our garden in Nebraska. I also liked the article on hikes near Wanaka, as our younger daughter and son-in-law are particularly fond of that area.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. ps. the Wilderness Mag article mentions a book by Alan Mark ‘Above the Treeline’ and it just happens Nigel has this on loan from the library at the moment. It has an excellent section on the cusion plants Raoulia and Haastia with a good range of accompanying photos. Well worth having a look at.

      Liked by 1 person

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