By: Christopher Cookson
The weather was wet on Marlborough Anniversary Day, and the family was afflicted with respiratory ailments, quite possibly due to one of those notable features of Blenheim during spring and summer; hay-fever. Between passing showers of the meteorological kind and nasal kind, we managed to potter about in the garden a little and engage in a little crafty activity. At least my daughter did.
She is obsessed with horses, and horse drawings seem to be materialising all over the house. She also wants a kitten, and maybe a puppy. Given the costs associated with maintaining a horse, perhaps a kitten might be a good idea. Marlborough is quite a good place for horses though, even though there are vineyards 'everywhere' ('everywhere' being about three percent of the total land area of Marlborough). I know, because if you go for a drive from Blenheim to just about anywhere in Marlborough, along with a lot of vineyards, you will probably also see a few horses.
There were probably quite a few more horses in the early days of Marlborough, or at least the early days of European colonisation, as Polynesians arrived here hundreds of years earlier, and though clever navigators and storytellers, horses were not something they had discovered.
Europeans of course had discovered horses, but not the internal combustion engine at the time they decided Marlborough might be a good place to settle, so they duly brought substantial numbers of their equine friends with them.
We actually did manage to get out of the house for a few hours during some fine weather over the weekend. Caught behind a caring horse owner driving at a leisurely 70 kilometres per hour so as not to upset their large rear passenger, I couldn't but help think of the plight of the poor ancestors of the hoofed traveller in front of me, who had to endure weeks at sea in wooden vessels with none of the modern luxuries of such things as stabilisers that modern ships have. Having arrived in the colonies, the horses would then be put to work towing people about in coaches and carts, or risking themselves or their riders fording wild rivers like the mighty Wairau. The Twenty First Century horse certainly has life easier, getting to be the passenger out for a Sunday drive, instead of the motive power for others wanting their own Sunday drive.
Perhaps it's a good thing that horses aren't the main motive power for transport any more though. Crossing the narrow Ōpaoa River bridge in a car is fine, after all, motor vehicles had been invented by the time it was built a hundred years ago, however meeting a large truck with hundreds of horsepower under the bonnet coming the other way can be daunting, although I dare say it is far less daunting than actually meeting hundreds of horses coming the other way. That's without even contemplating the volume of horse poo that such a form of motive power would generate.
Perhaps though, if our roads were knee deep in manure from Picton to Bluff, the emissions from our transport might be something that we'd take more seriously, whereas because carbon dioxide is invisible, odourless, and tasteless, it's easy to forget that we humans are still making a mess. Climate change is something that is likely to have a significant impact on Marlborough in the future. With a lot of coastline, and a heavy dependency on irrigation, projections of sea level rise and hotter, drier summers is something that could have a significant impact on the local economy. Even if the world comes up with some form of motive power that is affordable financially and environmentally, and efficient enough to make the internal combustion engine look as archaic a form of motive power in the Twenty First Century as horses became in the Twentieth Century, Marlborough still has other things to worry about though.
It's not just people and goods that are always on the move, but our planet too. As it turns out, a good bit of Marlborough is sitting right on top of the edge where two of the biggest pieces of planet that are on the move grind up against each other. You'd almost think Jerry Lee Lewis was inspired by New Zealand's geology with his 'Whole lot of Shakin goin on' and 'Great balls of fire' (the latter, strictly for the North Island). Like a truck sitting at a warehouse loading up, the tectonic plates under Marlborough are quiet at the moment, but eventually the truck is loaded and it hits the road, and when it does, you feel the ground tremble when it goes past, just in this case, it's not a truck, but huge pieces of the planet, potentially releasing more energy than the entire nuclear arsenal of the planet in a matter of minutes in the process. That might sound pretty scary, but Marlborough has actually benefited from that kind of seismic activity in the past. New Zealand's strongest recorded earthquake, the magnitude 8.5 1855 Wairarapa earthquake, lowered the land at the Wairau Bar, making the Ōpaoa River navigable to what is now Blenheim. There at the confluence of the Ōpaoa and what is now known as the Taylor River, named after the town's first Blacksmith Joseph Taylor, Blenheim began, although in those early days known as The Beaver for its tendency to flood. Presumably between sheltering from floods and getting a creek named after himself, Mr. Taylor kept busy supplying horseshoes to keep the local transport roadworthy.
As we take shelter from the rain, and my daughter produces a flood of horse illustrations, after a good sharp jolt from a small earthquake on Friday, perhaps that's as an appropriate Marlborough Anniversary weekend as any.