Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

The Importance of Being
by Ross Elliot

I live on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The climate is temperate, the landscape green and fertile, sand and shingle beaches are washed by the cool waters of the South Pacific. But, just a hundred kilometers inland, is a great basin known as the McKenzie Country. Blazing hot in the summer, frigid in the winter, bounded by high mountains in the west and east, glowing with golden tussock, crossed by flash-flooded rivers and calmed by deep, cold glacial lakes, the McKenzie's two million acres is a harsh yet glorious environment within which modern man has tested himself for 150 years.

In the early 1970s, when I was still at primary school, I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher. His name was Mr Bailey. My school, Main School, was on North St. I lived on North St and a few houses up, Mr Bailey, too, lived on North St. Just coincidence? Yes, I think so.

One day, Mr Bailey announced that he was planning a class trip in order that we should all experience the wonders of the McKenzie Country. He nominated three boys to go with him on a scouting mission and I was one of the chosen. One Saturday, after duly gaining permission from our parents, we packed into Mr Bailey's small car and headed off. Burke Pass is the entry point to the high country from these parts and as Mr Bailey's car chugged its way up to the summit a great sense of expectation gripped me. I was fortunate enough to have made my way into the front seat and even before the crest was reached I could see jagged white peaks, looming. Suddenly, we were there, and spread before us was a great expanse of burned, tussocky tableland and far in the distance, a monolithic wall of rock and ice--the Southern Alps. Small boys, their hormones not yet fully engaged, can be breathlessly excited by only a few things--this was one of them.

Mr Bailey's exposition, which had been full enough until this point, went into overdrive. For the rest of the day he bombarded us with his knowledge and evident love of this unique area. The greatest moments were reserved for when we came across the constructions which would soon form the parts of a great hydroelectric power scheme. Canals, dams, powerstations, they were all visited and explored by Mr Bailey and his enthralled trio. Nirvana was attained when we stopped to look up at the skeleton of the Pukaki High Dam and were told that soon, our road and us would be drowned under 140 feet of water. Great machines, hundreds of times larger than my own toy trucks, gouged at the earth nearby. Men in hard hats with smiles on their faces waved to us. The magnificence of their endeavours and that of the landscape merged into one, and I'll never forget it.

Several weeks later, the whole class surveyed the same scenes. But I felt strangely aloof, as if I had been there, done that. And I had. Mr Bailey had given me a sneak preview, a personal commentary, and that individual attention shone more brightly than this later, collective journey.

So, years before I was awakened to the romantic, heroic edifice of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, my mind had been energised by a quietly spoken teacher from a small school in a small city in a small country. And that's the thing. No matter where you are or what your circumstances have been, if you are fortunate enough to have the correct influences in your life, you'll be saved. Mr Bailey was probably not consciously pro-capitalistic or pro-ego and to me, an Objectivist, his political philosophy is unknown and essentially unimportant. But to the small boy I was then, his sense of life meant everything. The vigour and passion with which he spoke and the sights he chose to reveal to me, they meant everything. In hindsight, I don't believe Mr Bailey needed to do that trip with the three of us: I think he just wanted to have a small group of boys to share his love of that time and that place. And in that sharing, he fired a torch in me that lives to this day. I can't recollect an earlier point at which I was aware of my own sense of life and of my love for Man and His deeds.

Mr Bailey wasn't trying to be a new age, politically correct mentor or role model, he was just who he was--a vital man. Now, when I stand on one of those tussocky, rock-strewn, ice-fractured, sun-scorched mountainsides in the high country and look down at the forbidding landscape, I see Man's hand on it, and the most beautiful aspect of it all is the road leading off into the distance; the same road that someone once lead me down, that led me to now.

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