August 1st was the 200th birthday of Herman Melville, the author of perhaps one of the least-read classics of English literature, Moby-Dick. I admit to never having read it but it has always been on my horizon because of all the references to it, for example, the white whale that shall remain “unpainted to the last”, Starbuck (first mate of Captain Ahab’s doomed ship the Pequod), “damp, drizzly November”, “the sea we swim in”. You know that when you call someone an Ahab, it is not meant as a compliment. Philip Hoare is convinced that Moby-Dick is the novel for our times – see his article here https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/30/subversive-queer-and-terrifyingly-relevant-six-reasons-why-moby-dick-is-the-novel-for-our-times
Hoare says Virginia Woolf read Moby-Dick three times and her work was inspired by the evocative vision of “a fin rising in a wide blank sea”. But it is Hoare’s assertion that Melville was born “in sight of the sea” that transported me from my desk to the west coast of the North Island, where I took a long ramble weekend before last. It was a calm, overcast and not particularly cold day, a rarity in New Zealand’s winter, and perfect for walking. I started out at the top of the ridge overlooking the Tasman Sea and made my way down the track, with a long pause at my favourite Raglan look-out, all the way to the wide black sand beach. I walked along the beach before heading up towards the ridge again and found the bench where I took the photo above. The bench was dedicated to a baby boy who had lived for only one day and reading the inscription added to the greyness of the day. But it was hard to stay melancholy for long – watching the waves rolling in, hearing the sea birds cry and catching the scent of the harakeke on the breeze. I was reminded of Don McGlashan’s song The Waves Would Roll On, in which he describes the unrelenting ebb and flow of the sea that will continue after he’ll no longer be there to watch. There was something so soothing and timeless about the scene that I understood why the baby’s family had chosen it as the spot for their baby’s memorial.