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Sport 39: 2011

The Geographer

page 231

The Geographer

Brief Historical Overview

The geographer has come to stay for a week. He is going to run the North Island Orienteering Championships. This is his first visit since the news. He opens his case: ‘I’m still your Dad, just kinder,’ he says.


It is near midnight. I tell the geographer I am going for a run. In the oily rain I sprint urgent loops of the terminal and then hold myself in the marked spaces and dull windscreens of longterm parking. The airport is dead tonight, a stretch of slaggy ash on the bay. The sea is a flash on the grey seam. At a school camp, when I was a child, we played a trust game. A girl blindfolded my face and my feet stretched away in the cotton dark. How does it feel? she asked before her turn. When I arrive home I undress in the porch light. My legs have puckered into red welts, and my ungloved hands are bright and translucent. Like the memory of a child that has bolted from a dark barn onto the grass.


Through the night, rain beats the skin of the land like a genetic echoes.

In my dream a man runs into a woman

with a small papoose. When he was young my father was a runner.

My father is also a woman.

‘What makes someone a runner?’ my friend asks.

page 232

Theories and Figures

A relaxation tape tells me to shimmy my neck and face like a horse. I close my eyes and try to find my inner horse. He is coal black. Outside cars sluice over the road. The horse is loose: a wheeled wooden mare melts into a rodeo chestnut. Huh-ha like an accordion. I shuck my shoulders and try to be the idea of horse: a mane and downy nose, but I slide back into a rider and look up the slope between two tulip ears. He takes off with a glide and push. He steps into my idea of his idea of horse.


The geographer teaches human geography: the bluff of a woman’s shoulder or a deposit of hair. He talks about the space between people. You’ll want to see the competition course map, he says. He is wearing a blonde wig and a cerise cardigan. It’s a good colour. He spreads the creased paper over the coffee table and shows me where we will stake the hills with flags and punches. I study the shape like an ink blot.

In the concrete gulf of the wildlife reserve we park the car. I hide slender orange flags in bushes and behind the corpses of trees. At the stream he explains conservation. It’s not what people think, he says as he leans on the bridge. Everything needs to change.


A woman is sometimes the cartographer of her body. She shaves its slow limbs. Her cavities, a great idea, split into descendant branches. A geographer measures the way a bank shapes the water, which shapes the bank’s space. At the branch mouth the groin is a shore-protection structure, narrow in width but permeable (openings). His mother’s name becomes his first name.


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His face is a closed atlas. ‘I never know what to use,’ I say as we drive into town. ‘Use either, dear. Either he or she,’ the geographer says.

‘Would you two ladies like to order lunch?’ asks the waitress.


A geographer once told me that running soothes the tidal fluctuations of the human brain. It helps focus the body until the mind spins like a wheel in water. In the blue light of the morning the pavement is broken with mirrors. The sky is an airless shield over the streets. Outside the Supersaver a queen sucks and balloons a bag like a throat. His mother had a throat of pearls. At the funeral my Aunt Shirley ate sausage rolls and told stories. Your Gran loved her stilettos, Shirley said. She wore a fur cape while doing the hoovering. The geographer stood pressed and grey at the coffin in his double breasted suit.


The first day I met the geographer: ‘Here she comes, the Queen of Sheba,’ my mother said.

‘It’s the clothes that make the man,’ I said.


A human geographer must condense the distribution of natural complexities. This requires a synoptic dance of planes and levels. My father is a dune of questions: How is a place created? Does the lateral expansion of plume block the distributary mouth? Can a bridge transform a mountain from one region to another? The river has a still surface but flows with moderate speed. We shout instructions over the bridge in echoing cascades of sand. Geography is a field of middle grounds.


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In one photograph the geographer slides on a jacket in front of a winged mirror, with the help of my mother. For a moment he is his own father, his arms raised. They are off to the musical adaptation of As You Like It.

Are you going to change? my mother says.


A fault can be hard to fathom. The facies of features flood in generated waves. A geographer can run the length of an unobstructed sea, but can he find the wind?


Late evening I cook dinner and we watch a black and white Western. The geographer wears an old dressing gown and sellotaped reading glasses. He will leave in the morning. With a whistle the cowboy wheels his horse, winks from under his hat and rides homeward. As the sun compacts in tangerine slow motion the horse’s legs wheel away. For a moment he exists in the air.