Story: Perceptions of the landscape

Lake Heron

Lake Heron

Journalist Monte Holcroft won the 1940 centennial competition with his essay The deepening stream. The book ends with a lyrical description of a momentary sense of mystical union with the land, which Holcroft experienced at Lake Heron in South Canterbury:

My own conception of what is needed can best be explained through a personal memory. I once spent a camping holiday at Lake Heron, among the lesser giants of the Southern Alps. It was high summer; the days were bright and warm, and I found my pleasure in sitting for hours with my back against a tussock. I watched the colours change on the mountains across the lake, wondering at the depths which lie between the hard brilliance of noon and the tender drift of shadows in the dusk. I noticed once again the way in which the peaks and ridges that are so obviously barren and remote in full daylight come nearer to the senses in twilight and move, on the insinuations of tonal change – contrived by the sunset, the stillness of the lake and the lucid quality of mountain air – towards a moment of irresistible union with the submerged shapes of mind. At such times, pondering the curious extensions of spirit and soil, the individual can experience the demonstration of an idea. He is able to know, with a proof expounded by the senses, that the body and its environment have merely an illusory separateness. The margins grow indistinct, and the spirit has command of a larger self, mysteriously preserving its identity even in the moments of renewal and surrender. I thought that in this experience there lurked the beginnings of a journey which might be travelled in a search for truth as it exists for New Zealanders in the affirmations of their hills, in the silences of the land that received their fathers, and in the sounds of their own restless activity. Theses are hopes for a work that might not be attainable in this generation. Yet I believe, with a conviction fed daily from the evidence of a culture which stays too long among the shallows, that some of us must try, within the limits of our strength, to escape from the easy and superficial ways of thinking and make a new journey into the wilderness.

M. H. Holcroft, The deepening stream: cultural influences in New Zealand. Christchurch: Caxton, 1940, pp. 85–86

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How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Perceptions of the landscape - Landscape and identity: 1930s–1960s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 May 2023)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 24 Sep 2007