The Rainbow Hunters:
One Mother. Two Boys. A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.
New Zealand is a green county, full of vast expanses of land, of snow crested mountains that hide in white clouds, of endless sandy shores and deserts of mallow and spinifex, of tropical wildernesses and deep glacial fjords. It is not a land with which you associate the colour that we are looking for, the colour violet, the last in the rainbow spectrum, the ending of the known and the beginning of the unknown.
We have come first to the lavender fields, small plantations dotted along North Island and South. We stand now amongst the trim, cultivated rows of bobbing purple flowers. Pacific Blues that sway in the rush of wind that comes down from the Blenheim hills, rolling down over brown parched grasses. The helicopter woke us up this morning, before the sun had come up. It flew low over the French Fields Farm House, hovered over the surrounding vineyards, warding off the frost by stirring up warm air with the whirr from its propellers. Now the sun is just up, lighting the lavender in swaying bands of white light and cloud cast shadows.
“Perhaps with a little lemon,” Ruth, the owner, tells us, “you might extract violet, but people grow lavender for its scented oil, not for its colour.”
Onwards then to the shore, to the rocky north coast of Able Tasman National Park, in search of a rock snail, the murex, the whelk, a sea snail that can weep violet tears. We swim out into deep icy waters of aqua and navy blue. A sting ray glides past, a snapper, green dots flickering on its scales. We dive down a metre and a half, our ears popping, aching, dig off the pale coiled whelks that stick to the undersides of the rocky shoreline. Back out in the open air, we squeeze them between our thumb and forefinger, and sure enough they secrete their violet tears, tears that do not fade, a pigment that grow brighter beneath a hot sun, even brighter against a gusty wind.
And still there is more violet to be found in this green land. We drive southwards, across valleys of yellow broom and purple swaying lupins, down to the very tip of New Zealand, to Midford Sounds, one of the wettest places on earth, where we stand on the bow of a white boat, tip back our heads as we glide beneath cascading waterfalls, drinking the clear icy waters, soaking our clothes and our faces. And it is here on the tree lined shores that we find a lichen, the sticta coronata, dried and leafy clumps of it that cling to silver birch and beech trunks, gold and autumnal tinted, before it is placed in a dye bath, soaked in vinegar and lemon, to extract colours of pale violet and deep purple. The last colour in the rainbow spectrum, the known and the unknown, which is apt, as we stand on the very edge of the world.
The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (warchild.org.uk) as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war.
If you would like to donate something please go to http://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon.
Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.