Sport 22: Autumn 1999
The goldfish, which I have named Oliver North and Hugh Grant, are in a fishtank on the table in the kitchen. I have put a picture behind the fishtank and visible through it, of a lake set in native bush, and in the background is Mount C. The effect of this is that the goldfish appear to be swimming above the surface of the lake.
The goldfish were a present from my father—the first present he has ever given me which is not a book. At first I tried to read them.
At an Alpine Club meeting men and women in fleece and down jackets listened to a talk on the tendency for climbers to take less and less equipment when climbing a mountain. The speaker had slides of some of the Himalayan peaks, which he had climbed not only without bottled oxygen, but without ropes or ice tools. In fact, he had used nothing but love. At the top, he had cried for the loss of that love. He told his audience: if you love it enough to take it, make sure you hate it enough to lose it.
Afterwards, they argued about whether love was enough to climb a mountain safely. Jon was a new face there. He was unusual in his eloquence, and in the careful attention he paid to his clothing.
He said to me, ‘Climbers talk about fear, and about love. I don't know if love is enough—perhaps you need the love of fear?’
I said, ‘Sorry?’
He said, ‘Perhaps you need to love fear, if you climb a mountain.’
I said, ‘Well, a lot of people say that sort of thing. I suppose.’ Then I said, ‘I'm J, by the way.’
‘Oh, yes, J. I'm Jon.’ He was looking at me. ‘Maybe what you need, then, is the fear of love.’page 18
Jon was thin, of medium height. His hair was curly, his face glowed with enthusiasm for the minimalism of the mountains. Jon had climbed Mount A and Mount B, and by the end of the evening he and I had decided to make an attempt on Mount C, easy by comparison, later that winter.
People started to leave. ‘I'll call you, then, and we should arrange some time to meet and talk things over,’ I said.
He said, ‘OK, J. Ciao then.’
I tell all this to the goldfish. And more: I tell them how Jon carried the spectrum around with him, but that in the alpine world the only colours are black and white
It is my first day in this house, after a long absence. It has been empty for a long time—though it still belongs to the family, it has been almost forgotten. My grandfather built it in his twenties—which coincided with the twenties of this century—and added rooms throughout his life as they were needed. It sits in the middle of a lush, New Zealand landscape.
The house itself, however, is still-life. I am given a pen, and I try to write a painting.