Saturday, January 17, 2009

Papatuanuku te matua o te tangata (Mother Earth is man's Parent)

The last weekend of our long and enjoyable Kiwi summer holiday the Kloss family undertook a wee camping holiday at a lovely spot less than an hours drive from home, Vinegar Hill, which is located on the Rangitikei river, a major gathering point for several rivers which roll out of the Ruahines and a few other ranges as well. It is a renowned North Island river for trout fishing, rafting, kayaking, and also offers some choice camping spots. Vinegar Hill is a council reserve, maintained by the local council, and while offering a shower and toilet bloc, operates on the honesty system of taking out your own rubbish, not starting fires unless using your own wood, and leaving the camp site chosen clean and tidy. Really not so much to ask, but more on that later. The difference between tramping and Kiwi camping in places like this is the ability to drive right to where one wishes to set up camp, and so borrowing my father in laws two room tent, and loading up his trailer with everything but the kitchen sink we set up our camp in a lovely spot. Joined by our friends Chris, Erika, and their two boys Jake and Sam, along with my young nephew Mack, we settled in to enjoy a few days by the river. Pretty luxurious life compared to lugging a big pack, but then again, a taste of Nature is always a pleasure for me.

These places and these moments are where I am at my best. Away from stuff and things, though we did have a fair amount of gear to be sure! But just enjoying the presence of these people around me, Tara, Taylor, Charlie, and Mack. Chris and Erika my dearest friends here in Aotearoa, and Jake and Sam whom I held as babies. These are the moments that slow down and take on deeper and richer hues, and we look around and breath slower, laugh easier and more genuinely, and I feel calm and capable.

My oldest son Taylor, above, and I used to be so close. When he was little he was my shadow, and at nighttime I used to think the best part of being a father was simply holding him while he slept, remembering how when I was a boy the safest place in the world for me was my father's arms. And while we perhaps are not much different than most teen age sons and fathers, this growing distance between us sometimes troubles me. It has been some time since Taylor has accompanied me to the mountains, his interests right now lie elsewhere. Yet I could see during this brief and easy trip to nature, that his early mountain wanderings have held him in good stead. He had a very assured and confident air, getting stuck into the setting up of the main tent, tying off all the knots, handling the kayak, swimming, and roaming the area, and it was refreshing to see these three teen age boys communicating with us through more than grunts and nods, at times they were positively ebullient. Taylor traveled at a very young age into the mountains, and from ages 7-13 he got to quite a few places not many those ages would get to, and maybe I pushed him a bit too hard. Perhaps the mountains are still lying inside Taylor, a gift given to him when he was very young that lies dormant waiting for him to Open. I could see the spark in his eyes. I just enjoyed resting my eyes upon him, watching him, that little boy, now a strapping young man. In the blink of an eye.

And what of little boys? Charlie and Mack played and swam, fought and made up, built dams and sand castles, found a "secret spot" and built a fort, all the things boys should be doing. It won't be too long till I take these two out to the Ruahines,though I will no doubt be a bit more testing of the waters than Taylor's full on immersion. A moment I relish the thought of is sharing Top Maropea with both Taylor and Charlie, a place so important to me, my Taurangawaewae in Aotearoa, a place I have already shared many times with Taylor, a place where I carried and buried Charlie's placenta in the Maori custom of Whenua, or Connecting to the Earth. It is there waiting for us.

Sitting around our brazier fire in the evening toasting marsh mellows and telling old stories and memories, Mackie and Charlie bravely decided they wanted to hear ghost stories, so I told my story of Brittain Brittain, the old Ruahine culler and his ghostly presence in the hut with John and I one night, the lonely howls of his dogs faintly heard on the wind. I could see Mackie mulling over that one when Taylor upped the ante with the infamous "Drip Drip Drip" tale. Just as Taylor got to the end bits, Mackie lost his nerve and came leaping into my lap clinging on for dear life and begging Taylor to stop. So he did, and as it was late for the little fellows I went and lay in the big tent with Mackie who was still clinging to me. When he fell asleep I pried myself away from him and went back to the fire to find Charlie still there with Tara waiting for me as Charlie wanted Taylor to finish the Drip Drip tale. Just as Taylor started to speak we heard a little shaky voice from the tent, "Plleeasse don't tell it Taylor, I'm really not asleep yet"!

I think that will be the one biggest memory I will have of Mackie in the years to come. Just delightful.

Charlie and I by the trailer, which allowed us to bring a large amount of gear including the Weber grill to the left, kayaks, a brazier for our outdoor fire, cots, chairs, a table and umbrella, it was all a first class set up. Tara even slept in here on the second night when the rain had settled in and her attempt to sleep with me in my mountain tent aborted when she, rather unjustly in my view, accused me of snoring too much! I also chucked a few arm loads of firewood from home on board, which Charlie and I rendered into use able pieces. So we had plenty for cooking and for our nightly fire.

And this is where this post takes a different direction. As I wrote earlier this place is a Council Reserve, meaning camping is free based on the assumption people will take out their rubbish, bring their own wood, and leave the place clean. The council has provided toilets and showers, but not bins for rubbish, nor wood for fires. Fair enough. Before setting up our camp Charlie and I filled up half a council rubbish bag full of cans, bottles, and lord knows what garbage. At around 6:00pm I began to hear thrashing from the scrub and bush around the river, like an army of possums deciding to invade. It was groups of campers in there pulling, cutting and hacking at the trees and bush for wood, and believe me there was little dead wood in there to be had. As it got dark we could see smoky fires of live wood flare up for a bit then settle into a haze making mess.

New Zealand prides itself on its "Clean and Green" image, yet for the most part that is a fallacy and it was more than driven home here in a spot we should be proud of and take care of for our selves and for our children. And I suspect these were not tourists we like to blame for our ills and stupid actions, these were home grown Kiwi campers destroying and rubbishing our own back yard.

"Be a Tidy Kiwi - Please Take Your Rubbish Home"

What can I write? Why is it more important for us to be able to drive away from nature with a tidy clean car than to leave it unspoiled? How can people actually turn onto the highway and leave this behind with a clear and guilt free conscience? Charlie and I walked by the river with a small rubbish bag and filled it with in 15 minutes full of crap, and by the time we left there was more rubbish stacked here waiting for it to become someone else's problem, someone else's concern. And the world turns.

It breaks my heart to even have to post the above photo, it brings tears to my eyes to even look at it. Every one of these big pine trees has been hacked at, chopped at, had all their branches within reach sawn off, and even desecrated further by graffiti. Each one of these huge sores weeping yellow sap, like pus representing the callous disregard by man. It is the complete representation of the brutal disconnection we have to Nature, to the Earth. I could hear these trees weeping and crying in the wind, could feel the muted song of the river as it sadly passed. It is of little wonder to me how we humans are capable of treating one another when I see this, how we can treat the Earth in a place like this. It wounds my soul and I feel a cloud of depression wanting to descend upon me. I can only fight myself, teach my children a better way, talk to my friends until I bore them to death, write to those whom read here of our need to Connect to the Earth. It is not a product, not a storage facility, not a pool of resources waiting for us to use and burn up, and it is certainly not a rubbish tip, She is our Mother, and She needs to be cherished and loved as we love our own children, family and friends. The Gifts She offers us in return are vast and beyond us, and so simple to Connect with. Go and stand in your own back yard and just let Her find you.

I can think of no better words to conclude this post with than words, the very last words, written by Sir Peter Blake before his tragic death. When I see photos like those above I realize just how important his message was, how much he was needed here, and how it is up to those with much smaller voices than his own to speak together and be heard :

"We want to restart people caring for the environment as it must be cared for, and we want to do this through adventure, through participation, through education and through enjoyment... The top of the environmental awareness mountain that we are endeavouring to climb may be out of sight through the clouds right now. But to win, you first have to believe you can do it. You have to be passionate about it. You have to really 'want' the result - even if this means years of hard work. The hardest part of any project is to begin. We have begun. We are underway. We have a passion. We want to make a difference." Peter Blake, 4 December 2001



Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rite tonu te mahi ( Similar Role)

I have always tried to be quite clear in these writings that while the Ruahines are a mountain range that has become MY spiritual place they are not a place for mountaineers. No great snow covered towering peaks will be seen here, no miles wide braided river valleys that meander up into huge basins surrounded by tall sentinels, no glaciers snaking out of cirques and basins deep in the valleys. The Ruahines are long and narrow, the peaks are modest, the country steep, the rivers paths to the surrounding farm land a short one. To be sure it is not country to be over confident in, a fall from many places would certainly be fatal, the rivers still capable of rising and falling very fast, and the winds up on the tops quite commonly gale force. To those whom have climbed, tramped, hiked, or simply just enjoyed views of mountains more lofty than these, the Ruahines might very well escape all attention. For myself, they are a place of magical beauty, a place that from the very first time I set foot in them stirred something in my soul, and still does. I return to them again and again, and am always transfixed, always challenged, even in places I have now been 15 or 20 times. They are my Spiritual Home.

I never expect anyone else to get that, or to experience the feelings that I do there. I suspect John and Gustav have a special relationship to this place for their own reasons, but to most they would simply be a mountain playground, an interesting place to spend a few days perhaps, or someplace different than their own place on Earth that means the same to them, a mountain, a river, a lake, the forest, or sea, it doesn't matter. Maybe I should just feel blessed I have found, or been led to, a particular place where I do feel what I do, and consider myself fortunate. Already I hear them calling to me, just a few days after spending a week there, my body still sore, legs covered in grazes, cuts and scratches, my gear still spread out here in the lounge, the scent of the mountains is always upon me.

It occurred to me on this recent trip that there is a similarity between how I view mountains and how I view friendships. I did this trip with my old friend Jeff from the states, someone I have known for over thirty years, yet over that time our actual contact has been very sporadic. He has lived in Oregon, in Alaska, in Arizona, and now Wisconsin, and by the time he moved back to Wisconsin I was on my way to New Zealand. I had not seen him in over 2 years, since my last trip home to the states. Some friendships would not survive that passing of time, ours has. Like the familiar shape of a far off peak I might not have visited in some time, yet always is there to help guide me, to simply gaze upon and reflect, and even plan a future visit. However, even though that mountain looks the same it is undergoing great changes, the slips constantly eroding the familiar, the creeks and streams always flowing and cutting their way to the rivers. Then there is weather that can change on a daily or hourly basis, the cloud and wind, the snow, rain and sleet, or the perfection of a windless sunny day. The mountains, like friendships are constantly changing and evolving, or they die. New mountains, like new friends, are constantly being uplifted, shaped, and routes discovered, and old mountains being eroded yet capable of developing great beauty in what is known. Either way in the process there are steep hills to climb and descend, many rivers to cross, many gales to face. I was glad and proud to find that spending some extensive time with my friend that our "mountains" though having changed in many ways are still the same mountains.

1 Jan. 2009 Top Maropea hut
7:00 pm

A very cool moment for me to be standing here in one of my favourite Ruahine spots, the gateway to the Maropea valley. I don't expect Jeff will get what I do here, or even understand why, but as someone who loves wild places I hope he appreciates it. He was certainly given a wild crossing of the saddle. Sunrise hut was relatively full of people waiting out the gale like winds, either spending the night there, or cancelling plans beyond Sunrise because of the wind on the exposed tops. After getting a mountain forecast from a keen tramper, John, and taking a short stroll to the exposed tops, I decided we would go for it. I have crossed this saddle 27 times now and while the wind was very strong it wasn't making it impossible for me to stand, so by hunkering through the gusts we would be fine. While it was a very windy crossing they certainly were not the worst conditions I have done it in, and I was pleased with making the call based on true experience. Back at the hut a solo 68 year old tramper, Adrian, was watching our progress, and an hour after we arrived here came rustling through the forest joining us. He said we had given him the courage to give it a go. That is cool and I told him in turn that he is giving me equally as much inspiration by simply being here. He gives me hope.

"Reflections on the Maropea River"

My soul shines and glitters
like the red and yellow beech leaves
that shimmer and dance on the river bottom
as the clear mountain water passes over
In my mind I soar down this river
joining the unerring and exhilarating
flight of the Whio
yet my steps are slow and deliberate
and there is only now
I relish in this freedom
this river
this moment
these mountains
the Beauty before me blurs
My heart sings

Photo above generously supplied by Pohangina Pete and taken on the Pohangina river in the Ruahines. Pete is linked below and has another blog of his fantastic photography at his photography blog the Ruins of the Moment:

2 Jan. 2009 Maropea Forks

A beautiful day on the river, just overcast enough with glorious patches of sun bursting through at times, the water level low and easy. After 15 trips down this river it is still spectacular to me, and offering less technical river walking aspects of huge boulders and log jams and bigger rapids and pools in some of the other Ruahine rivers, on a day like today just a magical experience. I just walked quite deliberately and let me memory guide me, giving myself to the rivers flow. At one point I felt a euphoric joy wash through me, a connection I always await. Jeff and I took our time, stopping often to talk, debate, and discuss, taking an extra long lunch by the river and boiling the billy for a cup of coffee and tea. There was absolutely no need to hurry.

An additional benefit to our slow pace was that I was thinking John Nash might very well catch us up if he got across the saddle as he was planning to meet us at Maropea Forks that day. About 45 minutes from the hut I heard his familiar voice shout "Helloooo" and saw him coming around a bend in the river. It was a fine reunion, and introducing John to Jeff on a Ruahine river I thought very fitting to their places in my life. So my thoughts are of friendship. Of John, whom I have known now for 15 years and developed a huge bond and intimate sharing of these ranges with. Our travels together here have led to one of the most important friendships in my life. And Jeff, whom I have known longer, though spent less time with, so while we are rediscovering our bond, the roots are strong, and we are now nurturing it the best possible way. I am fortunate to have such people in my life. Friendship does take work and effort. It has to be nurtured and cared for. It takes acceptance of differences as well as similarities. I am learning. Today on the river I just relished Jeff's presence in front of me and also the thought of perhaps John's behind me enjoying his own walk. When it proved to be exactly the truth I just smiled.

3 Jan. 2009 Maropea Forks

It has settled into a rainy day, the river which was low yesterday is now singing a louder Tune. We have been joined by a couple fellows who appeared out of the mist like Bedouins from across the river. They had come from Lake Colenso, a good days work to be sure. Bruce and Gwynffryn or Gwynn for short. Gywnn hales originally from Wales, the second Welshman I have been in these ranges with, and both hale from Waipawa, a town not far from the Ruahines. They are on a pretty hearty mission covering some big country but I think are happy to be here in the dry warm hut. On days like this the hut porch is a fine place to be, and so is curled up in warm sleeping bag on a bunk as both Bruce and Gwynnffryn are now. I reckon they are here to stay.

Jeff, John, and I are gearing up for a walk up through the forest to the tops and Point 1450, a route John and I came down a few years ago and opens up into some pretty wide open tops of the main Ruahine range. It will most likely be pretty clagged in up there but the rain has slowed and I think Jeff in particular would like to get out and stretch the legs, and explore some of this country. The rain has slowed to a slight drizzle and the forest should be amazing and alive in the muted light of this grey day.

"Walk to Point 1450"

Oh how the upper forest beech trees
dance and sway
in the gusting music playing overhead
they creak and moan
in the misty grey storm
singing with the wind
Gaze down upon the forest floor
of this steep ridge
and see the lichens and mosses
come alive and illuminate this mountain
Their true colours no longer contained by sunlight
it is their time to shine and glow
against the muted grey sky
In the distance the creamy green flanks
of Orupu and Maroparea emerge
their golden tussock tops hidden
in the clouds
as are we
Cloud Hidden
I walk with my friends

Jeff fishing on the Maropea after the forks.

A nice Ruahine rainbow trout

5 Jan. 2009 Top Maropea

Our final evening on this summer trip. A different experience than in the past but I would not change a moment. As I wrote on an earlier post, accepting the Gifts we are given in Nature is far better than being upset over plans that might have been.

The sky is now completely still and barely a whiff of a breeze ripples the forest here at Top Maropea. In the distance the peaks begin to reflect the play of light from the setting sun moving beyond us. The 27th time I will have watched this canvass being painted. Each one unique in its own way.

I walked up from Maropea Forks on my own just being absorbed in the beauty all around me. The river and forest like old friends,the high peaks above calling me home, which suited this trip quite well really. To my surprise I found myself at the head of the side creek which climbs to Top Maropea after what seemed like no time at all. I climbed up to the track and waited for Jeff and John in the beech forest.They came along within a short time and I waited for them as they did the grueling vertical climb up that nasty 200 metre "track". So my final evening here in the Ruahines on this summer trip with Jeff. I know John and I will return here at some stage, but these could be my final moments in a place I love with an old friend I love. I am trying to absorb it all.

We have what will surely be a lovely and rare beautiful and calm walk back over Armstrong saddle in the morning, but the final evening is always melancholic for me, and now those reasons are twofold. Leaving these ranges, another trip completed, and also saying goodbye soon to my treasured friend, friends.

I console myself in that we have created moments to relish, that windy crossing of the saddle, a day on the river, renewing friendships and creating new ones, climbing in the forest, cups of tea, watching Jeff hook that beautiful rainbow and give Thanks to the Ruahines. Time grows short but we will enjoy this evening and tomorrow will unfold on Her own terms.

Friendships that are old, some that are relatively new. It is all full of Possibility. I thank the Ruahines, Jeff, John, Tara, all the people I have traveled with in these mountains. To Nigel, Taylor, Gustav, Rick, Steve, Adam, Scott, another Steve, Gyro, John, John from Wales, and last but not least ol' Bones, the man I was with when first coming to this for me sacred spot at Top Maropea. I gaze out upon this view and Thank You all. And also the people I have not met, aside from Bob, Pete, and Jamie, who might read here and hopefully enjoy. Some I have connected with in ways I know this place calls strongly and others where it is enough to know places like this just are there. I raise my tin cup to you all!