Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On chasing the long white cloud

Chasing the Long White Cloud
by Susan Krueger-Barber
When I started this blog five years ago, I outlined my motivations by asking myself a question: "Why chase the long white cloud?" A lot of things in my life have changed since I took those first steps into social media-dom, but the metaphor that motivated me to move forward with the endeavor has stuck with me---so much so, in fact, that I incorporated it into Field Notes on Language and Kinship. It appears in the book as the heading to Part 2, beside the stunning Susan Kreuger-Barber image displayed in this post and with this prefatory note:
From December 1998 to December 2000, I served as an LDS missionary in New Zealand. While I was there, I visited cities and towns between Taupo in the middle of the North Island and Kaitaia in the Northland and met people from many countries and cultural backgrounds. As happens with many missionaries and other travelers, I was transformed in the process.

Of all the cultures I encountered in New Zealand, Maori (MAH-ohree; the Maori r is rolled) culture has most influenced me. I've held it in mind since I returned home and many of its ideas have become part of my worldview and my writing, my poetry especially. Some years ago, for example, I began using an image from Maori mythology to give shape to a growing fascination with people and their interactions, societies, cultures, kinships, and texts. The image: someone chasing a long white cloud. It comes from the Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa (AH-oh-TAY-uh-ROW-uh), which means “the land of the long white cloud.” Legend has it that when Kupe (COO-pay), Maori voyager and New Zealand’s fabled founder, approached the islands later named New Zealand, he knew land lay ahead because a long bank of cumulus hovered in the distance.

Just as chasing that cloudbank brought Kupe a land for his people, that people and their land opened my eyes to the diverse possibilities of the human sea. I’ve been searching for those possibilities ever since. Every time I think I’ve come close to approaching some solid ground of human understanding, though, the cloudbank dissipates, then reappears over a different, distant island, compelling me to explore onward. Chasing the long white cloud, then, has become my metaphor for this persistent attempt to understand—or at least to try to understand—cultures, peoples, and paradoxes beyond my personal horizon. The entries in this section represent ways I’ve pursued that understanding via an engagement with my experiences in New Zealand.
And my entries on this blog and this blog and this blog represent the ways I'm still pursuing that understanding, still chasing the long white cloud.

Here's to revisiting and revising and reveling in the chase.