Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wisconsin : Reflections from October 2006

It occurred to me recently that I should perhaps address my original Turangawaewae in this blog. Both as a reminder to myself of those original stirrings so long ago which culminated in my discovery of the Ruahines, and also to share it as part of this experience. I was born in Wisconsin, and it is a place, much like the Ruahines, I think about on a daily basis. Similar to New Zealand, during the spring and summer, in its lush green lustre out on the plains and rolling hills. Of course, many generations ago these farm fields in New Zealand would have been thick bush running all the way to the sea on one side, and the mountain foothills on the interior, cleared in the madness of colonialism. Though one could no doubt make the same argument for the equally vast forests of my native land being cleared for the very same reasons. However, this forum is not, as of yet, one to vent or expound my views of history and politics - though I imagine it will eventually get around to that! So, aside from that, Wisconsin has no real mountains, though it once did until they were obliterated by massive glaciers in the last ice age, leaving behind old worn down hills and moraines, replete with rich soils in which sprouted huge mainly coniferous forests. I can almost smell the aroma of pine needles, feel the sticky resin left on my hands from climbing amongst the branches. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

Wisconsin also has many wonderful deciduous, or leaf bearing trees, and in the fall, when the cycle of life ends, these leaves empty themselves of their last life giving chlorophyll. And depending on the type of tree, elm, birch, hickory, and especially the maples, the leaves turn simply an amazing and stunning array of colours. The fall was always my favourite time of year growing up in Wisconsin. The approaching icy and snowy winter, football, basketball, deer hunting, Thanksgiving and Christmas all not far away. But until I returned there after over 10 years a year ago last October, I never really knew deep in my soul why it really was my favourite time of year. It was the leaves. I returned and was lucky enough to be able to take two separate tramps amongst the peak colours, and it was stunning and emotional for me to come to that connection with my original Turangawaewae.

The above photo, and the next three as well, were all taken on a beautiful fall day at Kettle Moraine Forest Park. It is a geologically unique area as it was the termination point, more or less, of two different great glaciers which rolled over Wisconsin and so left the area buckled and dented from its massive size and pressure exerted. While the forest above looks relatively flat, this is very deceiving, as it actually full of moraines, or deep crater like depressions left behind by melting snow and ice. So that walking along in the forest is very much like walking on top of a ridge looking down into the steep moraines. The photo above was taken from a tower built on a highpoint and climbs high above the forest for an amazing vantage point. The leaves were turned and it was a glorious day. This is looking from west to east and in the very back ground of the photo is Lake Michigan, 42 miles away and one of the 5 Great Lakes along with Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario. My thanks to Jeff, Rick, and Gyro for their fine company.

We had walked over 3 hours in the forest, both on track and quite often off, and then emerged upon this plowed under corn field with the forest along the edges. This is typical of Wisconsin farmland. We arrived here at this spot perhaps a week or so early for the full array of colour but it was still very impressive.

I am looking up from inside a moraine at Jeff, Rick and Gyro, and I was still a long way from the bottom. John Muir proved that moraines were also created by plant life and trees actually sprouting forth in the remnants of old ice and thus creating the moraine as the ice melted away leaving behind these forested depressions.

Walking along the tops of the moraines, which are connected like ridges is quite pleasant. A bountiful mixture of deciduous trees along the way, all in various stages of fall splendour. It was a very cool 6 hour walk we did, the weather was perfect and I felt very much at home. We then drove to West Bend and Gyro's big rambling old farm house for a big Wisconsin grill fest and a reunion with more old friends. A very special day in my life.

This is another fall walk I did with my mate, Karl, a few weeks later, as can be seen by the even richer colours in the brush behind me. This was much further north, near Oconto, Wisconsin. It is a large section of land owned by family friends. I can trace my initial stirrings for a real love of Nature to this very Wisconsin land. My dad took me here as a young boy when he was helping our friends cut Christmas trees they grew here, and later on to learn how to hunt rabbit, quail, and finally deer. I spent a lot of time here and got to know it intimately. I introduced Karl to it over 25 years ago during deer hunting season and he still hunts here to this day, bow hunting during the fall, and with a rifle during Wisconsin's 10 day deer season. He knows it far better than I now do, yet it is still a special place for us both and it was fantastic to walk it with him once again. As can be seen by my attire it was much colder this day, and by the time we finished snow flurries had begun. Awesome!

A brilliant small maple set off against the pines. This section of pines was originally planted as future Christmas trees, but have remained unharvested due to market decline and so reverted back to a wild state, which the deer love. The branches, no longer trimmed, intertwine, and become Wisconsin's version of leatherwood, though it doesn't seem to bother the deer.

Small Norway pine trees. In the stunning array of colour I found the muted pale green needles to have a very calming appearance in this "garden".

Another colourful shot. To the right is the now wild section of Christmas pines and to the left wild pines which then run into a sloping hardwood forest which terminates in a swampy bog. Once again loved by the Whitetail deer whom sneak out to the nearby corn fields for a feed and take refuge in the swamp. We have taken a few deer right in this spot, which is an old track which circles around the border of the tree farm area.

My friend Karl amongst a large stand of open pines where he frequently bow hunts. When over 25 years ago I brought Karl here to hunt and he found the same qualities to the land as I did, it cemented a fine friendship that has stood up over time. We have hunted here together often, other times, such as above, simply enjoying a walk in nature, and a few memorable adventures cutting our own Christmas trees - with the owner Mike's blessing I might add! Karl is a keen outdoors man, a fine hunter and fisherman, and a man who simply appreciates being out amongst Nature's Gifts. A fine friend.

Another Wisconsin city and area which holds much meaning in my life is Madison. I went to university at, and graduated from, the University of Wisconsin. It was an interesting time in my life and I formed many important and vital friendships which are relevant in my life to this day. I was fortunate to be able to visit Madison last October and roam around its huge campus and outlying woods along Lake Mendota with 3 old cronies from my Madison days, Jeff, Rick and Aaron. Jeff still lives in Madison, as does Aaron, and we enjoyed his hospitality along with his wife Sarah and beautiful daughter Zoe. I have known Jeff since 1980 when we met while both attending Ripon College, both of us eventually ending up in Madison. Jeff is pictured above in his garden on campus property at the edge of campus where there is a large area of garden plots. He had a very bountiful harvest!

From Jeff's garden it is about a 2 hour stroll along the lake side path back to the main campus. Jeff, Robb, and Rick are pictured beside Lake Mendota, enjoying a libation, and the fine company. The campus, and the main part of Madison, are located on a large isthmus between this lake and Lake Monona. Incidentally, Lake Monona is where Otis Redding died in a plane crash back in 1967.

The original part of the campus is Bascomb Hill, which dates back to the mid 1800's and is still the nerve center of this lovely campus. Rick and I are in front of North Hall, one of the original buildings and was a building I spent a lot of time in as it is now the political science building which I majored in. More importantly, in its early days as a dormitory it housed John Muir during his under graduate days. Muir left Wisconsin after a few years at the university to roam the natural world. So did I in a much more insignificant way.

Rick, Aaron, and Jeff, high up on Bascomb Hill looking back at State Street, which culminates in the state capital, which can be clearly seen in far back ground. Just to the right of Jeff is Sterling Hall, which in 1972 was blown up by a huge bomb during the height of the anti war movement, and this part of the campus was the focal point of the many student riots during the 1960's and early 70's. Even during my time in the early 1980's the mall area below us was always alive with political activity and activism. You can almost sense the pulse of history beating here. I love it!

As I started going through my memories of this first visit home since late 1995, I realized that for my own benefit, and anyone who cares to read this, or know me, that there was far more I needed to share about this trip than just my interactions with nature. All the people pictured in these photos are part of me, part of who I am, and I love them all very much. The above photos are my beautiful mother and sisters, June, Kathy, and Trish. My older brother Steve died in 1993, and my father in 1987. I miss them too.
I took this through a glass frame in my old house, now my sister Kathy's place. It is my dad coaching his Green Bay West basketball team in 1967 and me next to him on the bench, pretty heady stuff for a 7 year old! Next to my dad is Jerry Tagge, who was my personal hero at the time, and went on to play at Nebraska, winning 2 National Championships, and later for the Packers and in the Canadian league where he had a lot of success. He was the most amazing high school athlete I have ever seen. Great memories from my childhood. I have no idea what has become of Jerry Tagge. This was my true quality time with my father. The sound of a leather basketball bouncing on a hard wood floor, the echoes of my dads shouts and whistle blowing across the empty gymnasium. Sneakers squeaking, Converse Chuck Taylors. The smell of sweat and boys, the sound of showers and my dad and his assistant coach discussing the merits of the practice. He was paid next to nothing! He coached because he loved it. He was a better coach than he was a dad. He is in the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, which means as a coach he was exceptional. As a father he was average. Sometimes I miss him most of all. I always swell with pride thinking of him with my boys. He would have loved these boys, they would have adored him as well. None of what I put with in loving him. At least physically, but am I any better any way else? I wonder, as I also remember so many cool moments with my father. I love you dad, I understand so much more now I wear some of the same shoes.

In front is my cousin Roger, without question my oldest friend in the world. We don't see much of one another anymore but he is always in my thoughts, and even after more than 10 years we picked it right up. It was like that with all the people in the photos, and to me, that is a true measure of quality in my life.In back are my brother in laws Don, Kathy's husband, and Steve, Trish's husband. A look at the clock will tell you how we were feeling, it was night, not afternoon!

Above is my Aunt Jean, always and still a beautiful woman, along with my her daughter, my cousin Nanci in the middle picture, and just above is Nanci's husband Jim. We have shared so many happy times, and so many sad ones as well. Jim and Nanci had not long before lost their son Adam, a young fireman at age 23. To share this evening with them up in Green Bay, and the memory of so many shared in Chicago, the warm and embracing hospitality, is the essence of family.

The next generation of my sister's side of the family are pictured above, my nephews Ben and Tony, 14 and 16 now, Trish and Kath's sons. In the middle is my niece, lovely Kristin, now 18 and a freshman at UW Stevens Point. Last we have Max and Rufus, Max, about to be 5, is on the left and was a little shy about what Rufus was up to on his porch, but he made friends soon enough. And last is Max again getting one of the many cuddles I gave him while away from my own 4 year old Charlie.

The Warner brothers, Craig, Quinn, and Mitchell, my oldest and dearest friends going back over perhaps 35 years. Craig flew up from his home in Texas as a surprise and just blew me away. One of many magical evenings, far too short, far too quick, but each second relished.
Tony Maio and I go back to 1978 as freshman at Wisconsin La Crosse, he was a cross country runner and I played football and we became fast and true friends, and have been through the years. Doing a little walleye fishing on the Fox River above, no luck, but we had an enjoyable afternoon and evening! Tony Maio and I often do not even have to say much at all but we understand each other perfectly, and man, we have had some laughs!

Another fantastic evening in West Bend at Gyro's old farm house. Gyro on left, Rick, myself, Todd Pollesch, Jeff and in front is Phils. Gyro, Rick and I got back to West Bend for a cook out and libations when up out of nowhere came Todd, Phils and another old friend Mike Revane. It was very emotional for me as I had not seen any of those three in over 15 years, and at one time we were all very close. In addition, not long before Mike had lost his wife Sylvia to a tragic and sudden death. Amazing what trivialities can be put aside when true friends are in need. Mike and I go back to 1980 as well, we have camped, canoed, run a marathon together, amongst other things, and to reunite with him, as well as Todd and Phils was superb. What a night!

This is Mike and I at Lambeau Field. As a conclusion to this now lengthy entry, another thing I love about Wisconsin is the mighty Green Bay Packers. I was fortunate enough to land 50 yard line seats through Trish's husband Steve, and seats for Rick and Gyro as well! It was a perfect day, as if it was meant to be, eventhough the Packers lost. Mike, Todd, and Phils also joined us, and along with Trish and friends and their fantastic tail gate party, all I can write is WOW!!

That Rick is everywhere! New Zealand RTC Member, Madison, Kettle Moraine, West Bend, Green Bay, Alaska, Tasmania, out west, one never knows when the retired accountant will appear, and he is always welcome at my door. We were having a bloody mary prior to the game when up rode Mitch, who is a paramedic and rides a bike around the parking lot keeping an eye on the early morning boozers - like us.

Not many words need to be written here. Just look. Those dark circles under my eyes are not from sun glare! Virtually three straight days and nights of reunions, laughter, and even a few tears, takes a toll. It was a hell of a run and all those people pictured above made it happen. I thank them, and I love them all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mountain Views

As I have alluded to in prior writings, there are two ways to view the mountains, macro, such as above, and micro, a much smaller and contained view of the mountain world. A wide view is obviously beholden to the weather, cloud and mist commonly swirl about the tops and ridges constantly changing the look of the landscape, or blocking it out entirely. In which case the view is now enclosed, limited to my immediate gaze. Yet limited is a rather poor word to describe what one can see when the eyes are opened to the infinite beauty contained within that small area. This has perhaps been the most hard earned and lingering lesson the mountains have revealed to me. From time to time I could not help but stop and look at something so beautiful as to literally stop me in my tracks. On one of my first crossings with Nigel, a day tramp over the ranges via Maharahara, I recall us gaining altitude in the forest, so much so we were in snow, and coming around a corner on the track where a fallen beech tree was leaning over the track, high enough for us to walk under it. And as we emerged on the other side of it we were stunned by a brilliant burst of sunlight, reflecting itself on the melting water droplets and the greens of the ferns all around. It was magical and alive. We tried to photograph it, but alas, that moment did not translate to film, still, it is alive within me.

Over the first years of my mountain travels the common method was to explore, discover, and move on, never spending more than one night in any particular place. And because schedules were tight we never had time to truly linger and enjoy - not that did not have fun but rather this is just what we did. Over time, and particularly solo, I began to change that approach, out of both necessity and enjoyment. Spending more time in any one place allows more time to enjoy getting there, or at least that is my theory, and I have noticed a learned ability to view my micro world with a vigour and appreciation I continue to develop.

The above photo is a sunset I took on a solo journey to Top Maropea, one of my favourite Ruahine places. I have watched this canvass being painted there 23 sunsets now, though not all I could actually see, and each one is special and unique. This one I had been watching the sun set on the western tops, and just turned at this moment back to the north east and saw this lovely sight. The rounded top is Orupu and the far classic mountain shaped peak is Remutopo, both part of the main Ruahine range, and both climbed over or upon on the high route to Maropea Forks.

Mosses, ferns, and podocarp trees predominate the lowland rain forests of the Ruahines. This particular stretch of forest is near Awatere hut on the Makaretu river, and very unique in its relative flat and easy walking to the hut after the obligatory steep climb and descent over a small saddle. We came across this forest after 6 days of steep climbs and drops, and along with naturally being in tune with our surroundings, I found it somewhat surreal to be walking on such flat ground.

Moving higher up in the forest, above 1100 meters or so, we begin to encounter first the big beech trees, as per below John in the above photo which also indicates how steep the spurs can be, and above this altitude arrives the stunted mountain beech and leatherwood. On a sunny day there are fewer nicer places to rest than on a beech spur after working hard to gain that altitude. The sound of a summer breeze gently stirring the beech leaves is like sweet music. Unfortunately there is, most often, much climbing yet to be done. There are some who say that trees in forests contain their own energy and life force and I am inclined to agree. Stunted beech and leatherwood are tough hearty customers, and dead give aways for the areas prevailing winds. In misty conditions, the high stunted beech forests can take on a very ethereal appearance, one very suited to Aotearoa's Lord of the Rings reputation - see my very first post for a look at what I mean. In particular I find the Parks Peak area to be sublime in this effect. A very long and up and down ridge, with areas of boggy flats, where the micro world, in my opinion, is second to none in the Ruahines, or anywhere. Pictured below is a macro view of Parks Peak ridge, or some of it, as it is possible to walk for over two days to cover its length. This photo was taken from the main Ruahine range just above Totara spur and the headwaters of the Makaroro river looking from west to east.

The second photo is the "backyard" of Parks Peak hut. It took me many visits to actually learn to "see" this area with slightly wizened eyes. It is, in reality, a wondrous garden of a broad array of sub alpine plant life. Someone such as John Muir or William Colenso would have delighted in this little paradise on discovering the place. I, however, am not in their league, so it took me many visits to finally realize what I was amongst. While Muir or Colenso would happily frolic in this wild alpine garden and know what they are looking at, there are very few I personally can identify amongst the myriad of tussock grasses, flowers, mosses and lichen. In the back of the photo can be seen the big round leatherwood bushes - indicating high altitude, as well as stunted beech in back of those. This is one my favourite spots, on a reasonably good day, as they are rare here, to enjoy a Ruahine 'libations hour", and tin cup in hand roam about here and the immediate forest. On my last visit with John, we stood perfectly still and silent in the forest on a misty afternoon. After a few minutes the forest began to settle back into its own rhythms, absorbing us into its flow. The birds resumed their songs, the winds blew over head and sent down breezes and gusts which sent the leaves of the beeches and leatherwood fluttering with their own particular melodies, the moss covered beech branches accompanying them as they rolled and swayed in the wind. I would like to spend an entire day being part of that scene, and I will.

The next two photos are examples of the dripping moss and lichens which occurs in the wetter boggier beech areas. These, again, were taken within minutes of Parks Peak hut. Unfortunately I am only equipped with my inadequate, but useful, digital camera, as the true magnificence and beauty must really be seen in person. It can be clearly seen though, that the mosses have a somewhat translucent quality to them, and I think to spend an evening in this forest during a full moon lit period would be sheer magic, granted it was clear over head. Worth a trip to find out.

The second to last photo are of mountain butter cups in bloom, taken right outside the hut in early January. And the last photo is a close up of a leatherwood bush, also right by the hut. Personally, in the right place and particularly when in bloom, it is a lovely shrub, one perfectly adapted to its harsh environment. In the wrong place, and in its inevitable multitudes, it is the bane of the unwary tramper whom has wandered off a track or is in unmarked terrain. Virtually impossible to walk through, due to its resilient and unyielding nature, I have spent hours making little headway through it, and have found the easiest route, other than avoiding the battle completely, is to simply find an area thick enough with the stuff to just walk on top of it! With my bulk and a pack that would seem no easy task for the poor shrub, but leatherwood is tough and hearty stuff and I present little problem for its weight bearing capabilities.

While there are many areas of the Ruahines I find unique and stunning, the one I find most invigorating to my soul is around water, the rivers, streams, water falls, tarns, and the mysterious Lake Colenso. I do not why this is exactly, perhaps the answer lies in my roots as a Wisconsin native. predominantly farm land once flattened by massive glaciers. My familiarity with water ways was mostly brown muddy rivers, and of course the plethora of great glacial lakes left behind. My experience with clear running streams was limited to the far and few encounters I had with the odd one in the huge coniferous state forests while camping or hunting, and it always stirred something inside of me. To see clear water running over the rocks, to hear the sound of its burbling journey making its way to one or another of these huge lakes, most likely Superior or Michigan, always was a joyous moment. I also enjoyed a fine relationship with the Boundary Waters, the massive, again glacial, area of lakes and streams between Lake Superior, Minnesota, and Canada. Numberless lakes connected by streams or simply carrying one's canoe and gear to the next lake, it was a memorable way for me commune with nature. The ancient granite bones of the earth this country lies upon, and the black glacial lakes instilled in me a sense of awe and humility.

My first foray into the Ruahines was back in 1993, a climb up Gold Crown ridge with John and Nigel. A memorable day in that it taught me the true nature of mountains and how little I knew. It was a hot summer day and after a long steep climb to the ridge we quickly ran out of water and had little hope of finding any at our altitude. Retreating back down, very hot and thirsty, I distinctly recall John and I hearing the sound of rushing water, then seeing from high above a water fall with an amazingly clear pool beneath it. I stood transfixed, both by its beauty and also the potential quenching of my thirst, though we had little hope of climbing down to the stream and carried on still thirsty. My thirst was eventually quenched by an ice cold beer back at the car, but my thirst for these clear mountain rivers and streams still remains thus far unquenchable.

The sound of a river far below, muttering in the distance, is always a good sign after a long tramp, though also indicative of some hard downward slog yet remaining. And when it first comes into view, though no time to yet relax, generally means sanctuary lies not far away. I love the feeling of finally arriving down at a river, sweaty, tired and hot, and slaking my thirst with cold pure fresh mountain water. I have tramped in the Ruahines for almost 15 years now, always drinking straight from the rivers and streams with no ill effects as of yet. Being able to do that staggered my senses back then, and still does to this day. A moment of pure interaction with nature.

The first two photos above were taken on a perfect summer day on the Makaroro river this past year. A day John and I roamed up towards the head waters finding suitable pools to swim in, and there were many, and just enjoying the ambiance of a beautiful mountain river. See the clarity of the water in that second shot, hear it calling it out for you to dive into its chilly embrace!

Next we have a little stream which joins with the east branch of the Maropea river just across from Maropea Forks hut. Notice the slightly opaque tinge to the pool, indicating depth as well as clarity. Gustav and I have, at different times, dove into this pool when it was ice cold in July - winter here in New Zealand. We did not stay in very long. I have seen Blue Ducks land in this pool, and also have seen a trout cruising about looking for a feed before moving on to the bigger pools beyond the forks. The hut is on a fairly long river flat and I have roamed their often as well, just listening to the different sounds made by different parts of the river. From a gentle lullaby on the upper end of the flat, to a faster paced melody further on, and finally the crescendo as it rolls through this small pool , joined by the creek singing its own song in perfect harmony. Sorry for the over the top writing, but I love the sound of the river, everything about it, and this is one of my favourite spots to enjoy the constant symphony of water.

The Ruahines are also inundated with numerous water falls, not surprising given its steep and erosion prone nature. They, again, never fail to stop me from my toil and pause to absorb their energy, each one unique in some way. This particular fall Nigel and I are standing below is on the Pohangina river, located on a creek running into the main river, not far from the headwaters. We could see it from the tops the day prior and on our journey down the river shunned our packs at the confluence of what we thought was the creek running into the river, and climbed up the creek till we could climb no more. What an excellent day!

The last photo is Lake Colenso, which I have written about before in this forum. I love this photo for the remote calmness it portrays, the mist across the lake reminding us of the tempestuous nature of the surroundings, and mostly for the excellent display of the Lancewood tree, the branch with the leaves hanging down just to the rear of the foreground. A unique and gorgeous native Aotearoa tree. A very special place in the Ruahines.

On the Porch at Maropea Forks
The rain patters on the tin roof
Drumming its Song
along with the Endless Symphony
of the river
The Echoes
have called me Often
So I Listen
to the Music again
Yet Fulfilled
It is Intense
The Fear I felt
in my Solitude was Real
Knowing Your Path is filled
With Potential Woe
Yet I Come to You
I am in Your Bosom
I am Home