The 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.
Father 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