Unattainable objects of desire [February 16]
As a child, my unattainable object of desire was a giant Derwent pencil set. I knew that if I could just get my hands on one of those big boxes, my whole life would be more colourful. It took four decades but last Christmas I finally scratched that itch and bought myself a set of 36 Derwents. I pored over those creatively-named pencils, wondering who’d first come up with Blue Violet Lake and Golden Brown.
Over the New Year, as my TV screen filled with images of bushfire-menaced towns, I had a new language to describe what I was seeing. Walls of flame in Straw Yellow. Skies stained Orange Chrome. Fireys’ faces streaked with Gunmetal. Trees and animals charred Ivory Black. These were the colours of climate horror.
Another youthful longing of mine was to tour New Zealand in a campervan. In early January I left my smoky hometown and travelled to the South Island. For the next two weeks I motored past rivers tinted Kingfisher Blue by glaciated rock particles. I hiked through rainforests under towering trees of Mineral Green. On the mountain drive from Lake Wanaka to Queenstown I marveled at the technicolour lupins lining the road, every shade from Rose Pink to Imperial Purple.
But there was no escaping evidence of the climate horror. The white tip of New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, was dusted with Brown Ochre – ash blown over from Australia’s bushfires. Hiking to the foot of the Franz Josef Glacier, I discovered that this vast expanse of Chinese White ice has been shrinking rapidly as New Zealand’s average temperatures have been rising.
In the busy lakeside town of Wanaka I hired a kayak and paddled away from the tourist hordes, wondering if we were in danger of ruining this colourful planet. Humans – we’re a scourge, I thought, as I floated on the Prussian Blue lake. We don’t deserve all this beauty.
Back on shore I found a throng gathered on the footpath, everyone clapping along to some singing. Through the crowd I could see flashes of Lemon Cadmium and Deep Vermillion. Moving closer I discovered it was an Aboriginal flag hanging above a stage, and beside it flew an Ultramarine Australian flag. The Wanaka locals were holding an all-day singing marathon to raise funds for bushfire relief. For us.
Humans. Maybe we’re not so bad after all.
(This column was first published by Fairfax in February 2020)