Jungle Haiku

It was only the other day, while poking round through some old photos on my phone, that I came across this picture.

It was taken in the jungles of Queensland, more specifically, in the Mossman Gorge River.

I was there with a bunch of backpackers who were all about fifteen years younger than me. Oh well, go on then. Twenty years younger. We'd spent the day travelling through the jungle in an organised tour in search of the famous Jungle Haiku, the remnants of which can still be found amid the lair of the cassowary and the fresh water crocodile.

If anyone is unfamiliar with the Jungle Haiku, then let me remind you. In the 1960s a band of Japanese students of literature, enraged by the increasing westernisation of their university campuses, wrote a series of beautiful haiku which they were sure that nobody would ever read. Emboldened by the exuberance of youth, they set them on the air on lanterns which carried them not towards the mid Pacific, as they hoped, but towards Australia and parts of Papua New Guinea.

It is probable that all memory of this would have been lost had not the literary explorer, Professor Zazzo Thiim, discovered two of them in the jungles of the Mossman Gorge in 2010.

The haiku were said to be of such exquisite beauty that his heart rate increased immediately and he felt within him the ferocious pull of the centuries. Thiim, thereafter, said little about the haiku.

In 2011 I travelled to the same area with a band of enthusiastic students of French symbolism. Youthful, exuberant, they started the day eager to find more of these fabled haiku, but as the day wore on they became more interested not only in engaging with their environment, but also with each other. By the time we got to the Mossman River itself, all thoughts of the haiku had vanished to be replaced by the necessity of going for a swim. As one of them was heard to quip, ‘Who needs bleeding haiku when it’s almost forty degrees and ninety percent humidity?’

I gave in, and joined them in swimming in the river. The boulders, worn smooth by the constant flow, were slippery, but the water was cool, fresh and pure. Swimming against the tide, I was able to drink and rehydrate myself.

As the afternoon slipped into evening, the gathering darkness held within it a queer magic and we swapped stories around the camp fire of literary shenanigans and high whimsy. I recited a few poems and a few of them ell asleep. But in that magical day we had all become as one, a unit of brave explorers who, in the morning, would never see each other again. It was timeless, beautiful, resplendent.

As I made my way to my tent I looked up and saw the remains of one of the Jungle Haiku hung in the branches of the tree. To find it now. I told myself, would spoil the moment forever. Let us rest with our memories, and carry on with our lives.

I didn’t mention it in the morning. Indeed, I kept it in for all those years, eventually convincing myself that I’d seen nothing, until this morning when, looking at the memory card of my old phone, I found the above photograph.

Bugger it.


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