gold rush town
the sandstone well
brims with algae
A haiku rich in association and effective juxtaposition. There is a great use of contrast here between the hustle and bustle of a gold rush town (present or of days gone by) and the unassuming stillness of a well brimming with algae. I am quite taken by this snapshot of two scenes; one of the larger scale town and the other more particular location of the well. Despite the differences in scale and the perceived importance of ‘a town’ the well features in significance here; it can after all lay claim to two lines of focus in this haiku and historically speaking probably played a crucial role in the survival of the growing population of this town or at least was of immeasurable value to some of the miners and their families. It is worth bearing in mind too that ‘the well’ (as poets and artists tend to appreciate) carries great symbolic and mythological value. I imagine this well, perhaps on the outskirts of town, might be the occasional destination away from the everyday commerce and rush of ‘town’ for a group of local kids on their bikes – a special and perhaps secret place.
This haiku is imbued with references to nature. Given the unnatural commercial associations attributed to gold we sometimes forget that it is a natural element of the Earth, of particular beauty as a natural substance independent of the monetary value invested upon it. Our attraction to shiny things seems to be deeply ingrained in human nature and this itself is of great psychological interest which I’ll endeavour not to get distracted by here except to say that it the reason for this particular town’s existence.
The mention of sandstone brings to mind the warm ochre colours of this stone and again returns us to the Earth. Many of the buildings of old towns are made from local stone and it is likely that many of the buildings of this town are sandstone. I sometimes stop to admire the fluid patterns of sandstone revealing as they do something of its sedimentary origins in various bodies of water. The well itself takes us down into the Earth again, into that great body of groundwater that quietly seeps through the surrounding country. This well now supports a quite different community than it did in the old days; communities of algae and no doubt underpins a rich (if tiny) ecosystem quietly going about the primeval business of life and regeneration; all of priceless value.
First published: Windfall: Australian Haiku, Issue 2, 2014
Selection and comments by Simon Hanson