Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Part 2 Ruahine Winter: The Whio

2 August Early morning
Iron Gate hut

The Oroua has dropped somewhat dramatically overnight, though it is still overcast and drizzling slightly. It is pretty amazing to look at the river now, which has regained much of the clarity of normal flow, compared to the raging torrent of yesterday. The river is still high, and battling upstream, over the spur and then up river to Triangle hut does not seem an attractive option to either of us. Then there would also be the problematic possibility of the rain starting again and the river resuming her angry mood, and being stuck on the wrong side of the river is an interesting though perhaps not a very smart option. The safer play is to simply enjoy a day here, a walk in the forest, and enjoy our final full day in the mountains here whilst our wet and saturated gear gets a chance to dry. We are in no hurry to do anything at all, and have made no crucial decisions about what to do with the rest of our daylight hours. We can discuss it by the fire with a cup of tea.

John and I decided on a leisurely stroll back down the track through the forest and river flats. Just enough to stretch the legs and enjoy the lushness of the bush and the calmer but still temperamental river. I stepped outside the hut and walked to the edge of the bank to have a look while waiting for John. The bank sits perhaps 10 metres or so above the river, and I was standing there looking at the clearing water and pondering the flood of yesterday when I heard the beautiful, familiar, and haunting call of the Whio. That sound always fills me with joy. I looked up and saw him fly gracefully up the river almost at eye level and carry on down the straight out of sight. I was speechless and stunned, and even more so when he flew back and landed on a rock on the opposite bank straight across from me and started singing. I quietly called John and we stood there for I don't know how long just looking at and observing him, just as he seemed to be looking at and observing us.

For some reason very strong thoughts of my son Taylor came to me, a somewhat wistful and forlorn feeling, as we are struggling with each other currently. I have stood here at Iron Gate with Taylor, but that was a long time ago now, and maybe it was the ghosts of who we were then that swirled around me, a little boy and his father living simply. Or maybe it was the Whio. Before my last trip to Upper Makaroro I had not seen, heard, or interacted with them for almost two years, and each trip I seemed more desperate to connect with them and did not. I believe they represent the soul of these ranges, the wildness and purity, so to not see them for so long was very distressing to me in many ways. At Upper Makaroro I was finally blessed by not one but three. And now this amazing interaction, by far the longest and most pleasurable observation I have had of this beautiful and incredible mountain traveler. Maybe his song is telling me to never give up on either them nor my son. Perhaps he is telling me that which takes us apart can also bring us back together. I choked out a little karakia of Thanks to the Whio and of Hope and Aroha for my son. I hope one day I can stand here again with him, living simply.

The Whio is in the middle of the photo standing a few feet into the river on the partly submerged rock. Over millions of years they have developed an uncanny likeness to the predominant grey wacke rock environment, and I wonder how many times in my period of absence from their graceful presence did I simply walk right by unaware. At one time in pre-colonial Aotearoa these unique fellows and ladies would have roamed far and wide beyond the mountains but have now been driven to these relatively pristine sanctuaries. They are the heart and soul of these mountains.

Just a reminder of what that very same stretch of river was like not long before. Where does the Whio go in such inclement weather?

My friend the Whio and I looking each other straight in the eye. He was in absolutely no hurry to fly off anywhere, or drift effortlessly back down river amongst the white water. I was in absolutely no hurry either. I like to think it may have been a moment of connection, in many ways.

Photo of Whio supplied by Pohangina Pete, a real photographer, and a pretty good writer as well, he can be found at http://pohanginapete.blogspot.com/ .

" In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and the wounds heal ere we are aware."
John Muir

End of Part II. Thank you for bearing with me. Stay Tuned for the final episode.


kylie said...

thinking about your comments on taylor: i watched a doco a couple days back, it was an hour long so i cant tell you all that was said but the thing that burned into my head is that as teenagers it is their job to push the envelope.

hang in. before you know it his emotions and his brain will grow to fit each other again and you will have your boy back, albeit as a man


adam said...

Howdy, Robb.
I have the privilege to be all sides of the teenage fence, as a father of two, nay, three relatively young adolescents, as a teacher of young people who are having a difficult time of things and who gets to talk things out and read the heart-felt writing that comes of their hope and pain, and of a man who still thinks of himself as a 'kid', someone who many, I'm sure, wish would just grow up and get with the plan.
I struggle with my own expectations of myself and of the magical world around me. More times than not, these expectations cause me grief. I am who I am, and in my stubbornness, I will not become anything else. I reckon that's the way things are with the world, both natural and societal, and I ought not expect anything else but the same that I see in myself. We are all on our own course, and nothing but gentleness and love over time is going to sway us from where we happen to he headed, whether or not that place is what we envision from here in our limited sight.
As people of vision, we have responsibility to open ourselves to love and the difficulties that come of that love. Ours is the labor of understanding and of the reflected word, to help others to see what they are sowing and understand the harvest that will come of such sowing.
Pausing to think and enumerate one's place is a blessed decision and a habit to be developed. I'm very happy to hear of your hero's journey inward, and give thanks for your relationship with both Taylor and the Whio. That's not to mention the Ruahines, by the way. Very thankful you have them, as well.
"...the wounds heal ere we are aware."
Love from afar-

sarah said...

greetings robb,

i'm pleased to read of the whio duck and their hidden presence in the ruahines. how poignant that one would come as messenger at just the right time to bring you encouragement that all is not lost and to continue believing in the power of a father's love for his son. the cry of the whio male is never far from my thoughts as they are prolific in my favourite forest - whirinaki.

perhaps that place holds me much the same way the ruahines are your compass and your soul. it is an ancient, ancient forest for which i feel a deep reverence, everytime i journey there i return a different person.

having read of your vast experience with your beloved mountains i feel a little sheepish to tell you of our experiences over the past weekend with a place you know so well but one must begin somewhere, eh? the weather forecast was never going to be fully on our side but we decided to stick with our original plans as it seemed the general consensus of our group and simply to let the chips fall where they may. perhaps we would be shown favour, perhaps not (i notice most of your travel stories centre around what looks to be your favourite upper/lower maropea area and purity hut is not mentioned).

we left home very early and hit the bottom of the track around midday, made it to purity hut in good time and decided to base ourselves there rather than going further, exploring up and around the hut instead. due to high winds our hopes of camping somewhere a little farther up were dashed. friday night it blew and rained and i wondered if we'd be heading back down the mountain early but things cleared and we set off in the hopes of at least reaching wooden peg, which we made (in rather strong winds). due to the diceyness of the weather we didn't want to risk everything closing out on us, we probably could have made it to iron peg and back ok but decided to turn back instead just thankful for the gift of reaching the tops. we spent an enjoyable evening relaxing at purity hut, amazed we were to have it to ourselves for yet another night and that nobody else was to make the climb or descent and share our serenity. we headed back out the next morning

so, our days tramping-wise were fairly short but they were well spent. i've returned with a deep sense of peacefulness and tangible calm. there are hard decisions for me to make in the next few weeks/months, somehow getting to sit and stare up at the mountains contours for even a short breath of time, to taste the sweet rain and feel the sharp backhand slap of wind, to slip around in the mud and strain the body for rich reward, has helped bring things back into perspective. contemplating for hours the birds eye view across pristine farmland served as a worthy reminder my problems are small when seen from such lofty heights and such perfect timing for a lesson from nature, much like your whio messenger.

sorry this comment has become so longwinded but i figured you might appreciate what i have carried back from your spiritual home. we will most certainly return, next time it will be for longer and probably in summer where the weather will hopefully allow us to explore further and deeper, and just to see a completely different face to the mighty winter ruahines



Anonymous said...

You've really opened up the wilderness inside to us. Thanks. I hope the best for you and your family, I'm sure that the wilderness will provide answers for all involved...

You are a good man, I'm glad for our conversations and hope for a time when we can share a fire and talk of family and the sky and other important things...

Lost Coyote

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Kylie,
Thank you for your thoughts and support. I guess some of the forlorness is that I miss that little boy. I just hope I can keep him alive long enough to see that transformation, where the connections all fit.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Adam,
You are a wise man brother, and your words mean the world to me, as does your presence in my life. I had to read this a few times before my eyes stopped watering. We are kindred spirits. Your reflections, and my own realizations because of them have given me patience, strength, and love. To just be there and be Gentle, for my son, for myself, for the Whio, and for the mountains. A reminder of who I am trying to be. Kia ora my friend. Kia kaha my brother.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Sarah,
That is a beautiful comment, and such a pleasure to read of your interaction with the Ruahine. My mate John has spoken in very reverential tones about the Whirinaki, and it is something I will have to experience myself.
I have never been to Purity hut, though have driven by its access many many times. I have done a lot of trips over the Mokai Patea a bit north of there, and of course the Hikurangis via McKinnon, and up the other way from Pourangaki. So you have created a new mission for me!
I am so glad to read you "returned with a deep sense of peacefulness and tangible calm", and hope it does give you strength and perspective in making your decisions. I think that is the greatest gift the mountains, or any wild place can give us.
I think you made a wise decision to return to the hut, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Ruahine is its solitude. More often than not the hut you return to will still be empty.
Thank you for sharing and for your thoughts Sarah. Glad you finally got to experience the Ruahine. Hope to see you there sometime!

troutbirder said...

John Muir said it just right. And your words and pictures add to the thought. Thanks!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Lost Coyote,
Ah brother, to show you and Adam the Ruahine would be a distinct and pleasurable honour. The mere thought of that brings warmth to my soul. You both travel there with me at all times.
And if I get back to your mountains I treasure the prospect of being guided in such company.

"I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human".
John Trudell

How I look forward to that fire brother! It just may happen. Rave on and Kia kaha!

sarah said...

greetings Robb,

it's an honour to have inspired you to explore an unmet portion of the ruahines, now that i've been once it's given me a taste for a solo tramp either around the same area just to become more acquainted with the parts left unvisited, or perhaps your recommendation of crow/mckinnon hut and that section of the hikurangis. roll on summer!

i've posted the flickr link with my name just in case you were inclined to experience that section of the ruahines through my eyes :)



Ruahines said...

Kia ora TB,
John Muir certainly had a way with words.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Sarah,
Great photos! Still lots of snow up there. Pretty cool country up there. You guys looked well prepared and judging by the smiles had a great time. Excellent!
The new hut looks pretty flash, one of the reasons I always bypassed Purity was the old one was a cold drafty run down affair so the new one is worth a trip on its own.
I am heading out again this coming week for 4 days or so. An opportunity has presented itself and I can't resist the call of the Ruahine. Happy tramping Sarah, have a lovely weekend.

Hell Mission Tramping Club said...

Just completed a trip up Tunupo to Top Gorge then back over into Iron Gate Hut then out from there.
report and photos on the site, almost got stuck in Iron Gate and the river was not far from it was in your one! Also fixed the door in Iron Gate so now it opens properly.

Gustav Risberg said...


I enjoyed this part of your journey.

Just being not going. I assume the picture of the back of person sitting tranquilly is John.

Also enjoyed the Muir quote. I am moving to my new abode this weekend and have been going through my books. Muir's words are more relevant than ever.

Give Taylor, Tara, and Charlie a hug from me.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Philip,
Good loop trip mate. Top Gorge is a pretty remote place, and good to visit before that hut is no longer there. Hope you found Iron Gate clean and tidy with the wood well stocked. We took a fair bit of rubbish out of the hut, idiots who leave stuff behind eh! A nice walk though in the forest back to Heritage, as long as Tunupo creek isn't angry! Happy tramping Philip, we will catch up one day.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora brother,
It is indeed John enjoying the tranquil scene.
Taylor and I are headed out on Thursday for 4 days, just him and me. Should be interesting.

Robin Easton said...

Dear Wild Brother, as so often happens when I come to visit you I read with tears in my eyes. This time is no exception. There is so much of your deepest heart in this post: your total enmeshment with this place, your awareness that the lives around you (the Whio, the river to forest) are part of your life and connected to you...ARE you, the openness of heart you have in this place and the longing for your son, Taylor. All so beautiful.

RE Taylor: My heart goes out to you and I believe with time your love of him and his love of you (and he does love you deeply) will ease the way for a path that you will both walk together.

You are truly a beautiful soul and for me to feel the wide openness of your heart to all things is deeply moving. As if you stood on this mountain and merged with everything you love: Taylor, the Whio, that mountain, the Earth, your family and yourself. These are unforgettable experiences and moments Robb, they are the true essence of you. I understand this so well.

You say about the Whio: "They are the heart and soul of these mountains." Yes, they are, Robb. So are YOU my friend, and since you take Taylor (in your heart) with you so is he, so are all the people you love and take with you, Charlie, your beautiful wife, and even when you take Ophelia or me with you we too have become the heart and soul of these mountains. We all are part of you and you are indelibly part of us and the wild mountain, my brother.

Aroha always,

Pam said...

What a beautiful place this is to visit Robb - the photos, the sentiments, the comments.I wish you well with your trip with Taylor.Our soul-scratching (vs. soul-searching!)was more complicated as it was a father/daughter combination battling it out.Hard years, but love prevails and we have all emerged victorious with an absolutely beautiful twenty-five year old.They do keep you young and on your toes, although it feels like they can make you age ten years in a day sometimes!! Your dear Whio arrived at just the right time. It was meant to be I'm sure.

Marja said...

Pleasure to read about your journey again Now the sun is shining I am out and about whenever I can. I usually take 2 boys from the home I used work, up in the hills and we walked for 3 hours last saturday.
I love this time of the year and can't wait till the next holidays when we go for a long weekend to Hokatika and have some walks on the West coast. I can so relate to the struggles with your son I am in the same postition at the moment
The harder I try the worse it gets.
He seems to choose all the behaviours to annoy me. I'll try to step back now and see what happens. We can just trust and hope that things turn all right
Aroha Marja

Lynda Lehmann said...

Gorgeous post, Robb. No doubt you did have a moment of connection with the Whio. Animals are intuitive and if you felt it, my guess is that he did, too.

I love reading your heartfelt posts and how you relate them to your inner and outer life. It's so healing and comforting to share these things, even with friends we've never met. :)

And no, you will never give up on those you love. It's not in your character, to abandon what your heart has cherished.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Wild Sister,
I know you get it, and perhaps understand myself better than I. Your recent posts mirror so vividly what I am trying to write, to feel, to experience.
Sometimes I feel as if I could just stand there by that river with Taylor he will get it. Which I know is not true as he must come that himself, as I am. But maybe those moments will remain inside his soul and emerge when ready - like your recent trip has left as yet unwritten beautiful words upon your soul. I hope so.
We have had to delay our trip till we get better weather, as gale force winds are in store for the next few days. It sort of scares me to think of being in the mountains alone with Taylor, but I must and I will. I shall bring you as well my Wild Sister, that will give me strength, laughter, and aroha. Kia kaha!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pam,
Thank you for visiting and enjoying. And thank you moreso for sharing your words of support and experience which heartens me so very much. I am preparing for this trip with Taylor when the weather clears a bit, and have another first ever with Charlie in October when he turns 7 and goes on his first real over night tramp. I hope both still represent a beginning. I like to think your words about the whio are true!

KB said...

Robb - We live so very far apart yet we share a pure love of the wilderness. I feel your love of nature in your words. I'm happy that the Whio came to visit you that day. It does sometimes feel like the wild animals are making a connection with us - I've experienced the same thing. Once, I had prolonged eye-to-eye contact with a mountain lion, and I felt like we each looked inside the soul of the other. We, as humans, have to be open to the connection. You are.

Enjoy your tramping!

pohanginapete said...

Kia ora Robb,

I don't want to sound overly New Age or mystical, but I do have the strong intuition that whio, like some other elements of these significant places, show their true selves to those who appreciate them most — and to those who are ready to see them. And when I say "show", I'm not speaking of a simple physical sighting. But now I'm dangerously close to sounding New Age or mystical...

So let me just say that it sounds as if this whio showed itself when you needed it; when it was important. The reminder of those earlier days with Taylor isn't necessarily melancholy or wistful — there are things in which to delight, and to which you can look forward. You went several years without seeing whio; now you see them. It's almost a koan.

I, too, missed them for several years before they reappeared. I wonder why?

Thanks for the kind words, Robb. :^)

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Another treasure post, Robb. Love that you traveled back in time to connect with Taylor.

I have close relationships with both of my girls even though they have been on their own as adults. The teens are a hard time and I am praying your connection grows stronger each day with Taylor.

Super photos!!!

Wild wave to my Broken Toe Brother. :D

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Marja,
I am so pleased to see your visit as always. I would love to sit down with you, as I have written before, and share a drink and talk about sons. You are wise and i would love to Listen to you.
Taylor and I have postponed our trip till next week, I hope, as these nor west winds are playing out gale force and persistent. Stay tuned my beuatiful friend!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Lynda,
You are a friend indeed! Your presence here, your words, and your affirmations of my son and that visit from the Whio mean the world to me, Truly. Kia kaha Lynda, Rave On.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora KB,
I sense the very same from your place, and the mountains you roam amongst. It is good to find kindred souls. Haere mai - Welcome - and your presence is welcome here.
Though the notions are the same I reckon I felt a bit more comfortable staring eye to eye with a Whio than I would have with a Mountain Lion. I would love to read of your encounter with him, or her! Yet I understand how right you are about that Connection. Kia ora - Thank you - KB.
Rangimarie - Peace

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
I am starting to understand about places "showing" themselves. Without sounding too New Age myself, I really did feel a connection with the whio, and I simply choose to honour that.
Taylor and I are heading out this week, knock wood, as soon as the wind dies down a bit. We are literally packed and ready to go. I haven't got much response from him as to his being keen or not, but today we went and bought him a new pair of boots - size 12's, which also fit me perfectly! On the way home he actually smiled and started talking about some of our past trips. He wants to go to Maropea Forks. It filled me with hope and joy.
It is kind of cool to recollect that Iron Gate hut is where I met you many years ago in a brief yet enjoyable moment. Life is strange sometimes.
Cheers Pete, hope we can catch up real soon.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora JJ,
Thanks for your support as well. It has meant a lot to me to read of the fine souls I have connected with here whom have traveled the path with children I am now upon.
Taylor and I will be creating some new connections very shortly. Kia ora (Thanks as well as Hello), for your thoughts and prayers. It means a lot.
Take care my broken toed amigo who roams my old back yard! Kia ora to Jeff - looking forward to seeing that beautiful hand made kayak.

Barbara Martin said...

Robb, you are in your element in these photos and the wonderful narrative. To see three of anything is a blessing of good news. To see of these wonderful birds is definitely a connection.