Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Apricots in Clyde

Like the sky, the surface of water changes constantly under the guidance of the sun, the rain and the wind. There are clouds in a lake, streaky thin clouds and pale dumps of fluff, and there are great areas of blankness and calm.

The water is in different states in different times and in different places. Here it is dark and lazy, like oil; there it is just liquid, clear and easy-moving. Now it is textured in the way paint is textured when it is layered up roughly; and now it is pure, unlined, a blue gas coming up out of nothing. There is electricity in the water, and when the sun is right and the waves are right you can see it flash across the surface in sheets of low lightening; and because there is lightening there must be stars as well, and you can see those stars if you look closely enough: the water glitters with them, at certain times and certain places, and looking down at the water is like looking down on a city during a night of fireworks.

Here on the rock the sun is hot and the water is deep, sore-feet hot and yellow-green deep. One or two tussocks spike out of the rocks. They are yellow and green and have one or two grey hairs. You can throw an apricot stone into the lake and watch it go down, twinkling like a flake of gold. After a while it breaks up into liquid blobs and then disappears altogether.

Everyone can see that the water is wavy on the surface, but you need to look carefully to see how many different waves there are, waves of different speeds and sizes and directions of travel. Often they are not really waves at all, but depressions in the water, smooth around the edges like dimples. A moderate wind turns them into wrinkles, where the rising peaks look to have too much water in them and not enough speed so they collapse as they go over like a piece of loose skin. A little more wind and they slap down with a little explosion of froth.

When the wind gets up a bit more the whole surface starts to heave, and a set of wide, low ripples moves the smaller ripples up and down, and it is like something has moved under the water and not just above it. There is a stick on the lake and this stick feels as you or I would feel if we discovered that the hill we were riding on was not a hill at all but a great beast who had just woken up. There are tiny waves as well, concentric threads of water that ripple outwards and ride the bigger waves. They are made by tiny stones and the wings of drowning flies.

All of this can be observed from the dam-end of Lake Clyde, in the South Island of New Zealand, where I went in January 2007. The township of Clyde is a pleasant enough place. It takes a while to get away from the generic suburban garageland, but it is worth it when you do, as the town centre (or what looked to be the centre; it is small enough to be a minor offshoot) is made up of old-seeming buildings, with early-settler facades. One of those facades has a plastic sign outside reading “Cybernet Central” in highlighter-green type. Two young children sold me 20 apricots for 3 dollars.