Still Moving at Kaiteriteri

24-march-3-looking-back-at-kateriteriI can’t see too far outside today.

Beyond my rain-lace window a bay smiles as a golden sandy arm embraces it, sea calm as a blue egg.  A still sky shimmers a few blue tones lighter.   And all framed in slopes of soft-shaped rocks and green islands.

It is quiet.  It is tranquil.  Now, I need to be still.  To travel inside where waves of emotion surge and crash.  I don’t know why.  Why, suddenly, are tears burning my eyelids?

I am tired, I know, over-awed by so many landscapes in such short time.

I gaze in bliss at tissue-paper rain-haze, at peaceful sea undisturbed.  Today, I can’t see too far outside.

Yesterday, we travelled far.

22-march-4-pancake-rocksFrom Hokitika on the wild, stormy-wet, west coast through failed gold towns, old coal mines, up and up along the fierce ocean edge of South Island.

Into sunshine, blue sky, and new rock.  Leaving fault-line gorges, pounded black volcanic beaches, grey stones and pounama – greenstone jade –  for sandstone and limestone.  For warm tones, blowholes and pancaked rocks giving in to sea’s carving.  Swell crashes and shatters, roars, hisses, roams rocks, claws clefts.  Pummels, punches, grinds.  And this without a wind to urge.

Now as we turn inland, softer outlines, familiar shapes.  Wide river valleys, clear shallow water, lichen and river weed as rain forest thins and the last palms bless us.  Rounded hills, no sharp angles or volcanic triangles.  No old sea beds forced to surface as strata, hillsides quaked to rubble.  Rivers unscarred by glacial chaos.

And this morning, driving down a broadening pastoral valley, through sheep and cattle to orchards, vines and veg plots, into raspberry and blueberry canes, kiwi and hop vines, nectarines, peaches, plums, with lemon trees signing ripeness in citrine gems.  Small farms, smaller fields.  No logging.  A town and through, a coastal wiggle and here we are.  In gentle land.

As we park by the sea John exclaims, ‘Look.  No waves.  Not one wave.  No breakers.  It’s just so still.’

And I am overwhelmed.  I had not thought the violence of the landscape had so affected me.

Snarling breakers, rock chewing, tree-limb spewing, ship-wrecking, rip-tiding, silt-shifting.

Constant cloudburst, raindrops beating, drumming, drenching, flooding, hill slicing, boulder shoving, cascade-scissoring.

The land itself, plate grinding, heat venting, strata skewing, lava lumping, shivering, shaking, shattering, quaking.  Unbalanced and unbalancing.

I sit here, now, level.  Withstanding nothing.

Is my response to landscape so strong?  Or is it baggage travelling with me that rattles?

I have felt over-awed, yes.  Yet, I have felt.  Down to my own molten core.

17-march-9-aoraki-and-the-hooker-glacierThis land has challenged me to regain fitness and balance.  A six mile hike in hot sun and cooled air through the Hooker Valley towards Mt Cook Aoraki.  Watching a glacier calve in sacrifice at Aoraki-Cloud Piercer’s base.  Six weeks ago I couldn’t have done that.  Four months ago I couldn’t balance to walk.  Concussion.  In German, it’s  ‘Gehirnerschuetterung’,  brain shattering.

Hot, soft, lava brain.  Cold, hard, rocky skull.

Perhaps that’s why my strong response.  A landscape of concussion is what I see in South Island.  A landscape of shaking, shattering, shuddering, tremors, surges, falls, slips, crashes.  Land out of balance.  A land of creation and erasure.

Perhaps that’s why the level grey haze of sky and the duck-egg sheet of sea, the gentle arm of golden sand stir me.

A new flag from nature, striped with three balanced even bands, marking my pilgrimage through unstable mind and land.

I can’t see too far outside today.  And inside?  I see a long, bright future clearly…


Father of the Forest

P1030693The road north, through pastures and kumara fields to Dargaville and old-time, wooden chalet houses built on kauri timber fortunes as the sunray slopes were shaved. A port rich enough for knobbly braids and wooden lace fans in verandah angles.  Past a mixed-metaphor motel, Hobson’s Choice, in a town big enough for more.

Then, kauri forests.  Forests they are labelled.  They are mixed-tree forests, phoenix ferns and native canopy, kauri trees are few and far, felled for amber-glowing timber, sucked of sap for varnish.  Once, kauri gum cost more per ounce than gold.  It’s still in use, as violin varnish.

We curl through native rain forest uninvaded by oak, beech, willow and their Euro-bird companions.  Original silhouettes against a storm-bruised sky.  Our road fringed with fingered fronds of phoenix palms cupped papally over our travelling heads.

We are pilgrims under a blessing of palms.

Winds wring rain from Storm Winston’s clouds.  Our blessings increase.  A rain forest traversed in rain.  Ever norther, tropic-wards, winding vines now climb and lichens skein from bough, kid-snot green, dripping, running.

We approach the hallowed place.  We park and walk to see the blessed trees, the last great kauris, feted for survival by the men who felled the rest, for standing still, enduring, growing, being.  For two and a half thousand years.  Two point five millennia. The few.

We tread boardwalks through straight, thick, grey trunks urging to sunlight.  We walk towards Te Matua Ngahere.  We walk towards the Father of the Forest.  Our feet on boards.  Despite their age and hulk, kauri roots lie shallow, easily damaged by tramping boots.  Our eyes run upwards, open, wide.  Silence cloaks us in wonder.

A slope.  A curve.  And there we are.  Before him.  The trunk.  So broad and round I do not see it.

I see a medieval keep.  A grey, stone tower in a Welsh-March castle.  Look unthinking for ravens in its ruined castellations.

What?  Te Matua Ngahere.  I am in New Zealand, seeing with European eyes.  I close then open them.  Ah yes.  The grey stone crumbles to a sixteen metre tree bole, there, immense, so great I could not see it.  Growing greyish wood, crannies and crevices, a wasps’ nest bulging and buzzing.  The grey grows greater as my eye checks back to other trees, to slender trunks, dark, feathered with dancing, green plumes.

We gaze at each other.  Te Matua Ngahere.  I look at John.  He looks at me.  Our eyes are awe-wide, voices stilled.  There is nothing and everything to say.  We stand in a cathedral, a temple, a shrine and dare to look on wood-time.  Two and a half thousand years, still growing, still homing.  There is nothing to say, everything to feel.

Before us, an elderly Korean man puts his hands together and bows, bows, bows to Te Matua Ngahere.  To our Father of the Forest.

We sit.  Time slows.  Breath slows.  Watching our Father.  Fearful of filling forest silence with humanity.  How small our lives.  How fast we grow.  We sit still.  Alone now, together.  With our Father.

Then, an itch in the trees, a scratch in the silence that puckers air and screeches our way. Tourists on a tick-box trip, camera-click and selfie-stick, paste Father as wallpaper on each small screen.  Cackling cockatoos, they perch and parade til all the me-with-you, you-with-me shots have ricocheted around his trunk.  Ripping peace to ribbons, they clatter, garlanded, away.

P1030694Father endures.  Grey, silent, solid.  From time’s beginning to its end.  Te Matua Ngahere.

Silence settles.  We leave quietly, looking back, looking back.

Toitu te whenna – leave the land undisturbed, we are urged…



Copyright Christine Cooke March 2016

Leap Year Day in Matauri Bay

29 February 2016            Matauri Bay  image

The busy sea had been up early polishing her sandy front step til it shone for the dawning sun to glaze it silver.  In its reflection Norfolk Island pines comb the sky, teasing tangled clouds smooth for the breezes to spin.

Hand holding hand we walk along the beach, vanilla ice-cream sand, wave-licked above, and from beneath small explosions, clam volcanoes mirroring the haze-grey, worn-down island ridge that stops the sea from slipping out in a cloud-rugged hug.

Dressed for this once-a-four-year day, terns wear scarlet stockings to match their curved red beaks, seagulls choose yellow, and the grander, more formal black-backed gulls don black tails, juvenile birds a-baying and food begging, padding hyena-hunched behind.

Tattooed in the skin of the sand, if you look, are tiny kauri trees, a secret worm’s curlicue doodle, wading birds’ fluted footsteps strung like bunting through sea-sand sky shine.

Waves write lines to hang a frothy song on, soaping sand and sending terns to stutter and putter from their reflections.

Hand holding hand we walk back along the beach.

A day like no other.  Here now.  Eternal.


Copyright Christine Cooke March 2016