Saturday, November 27, 2010

Song of the Tawhairauriki - Mountain Beech (submitted for the Festival of Trees 54)

There is a ridge in the Ruahine mountain range of Aotearoa (New Zealand) which for me is a magical and spiritual place. Up high at around 1300 metres the tawhairauriki (mountain beech) become gnarled and twisted as they fight the elements of the thin mountain soil, the prevailing and often gale force northwest winds, the rain, sleet, and snow as they seem to cling precariously to the mountain.
Especially around sunrise or sunset they take on an ethereal presence. As if they are the maunga tipua, or mountain guardian spirit. The gnarled branches become limbs reaching to the sky both beseeching and defiant. The mosses and lichens clinging to them become like the furs of warriors at momentary rest from an endless battle. And their defiance also speaks to the intrusion of man in such places as if to cry out,"Leave us be. You do not Listen. We accept our lot
as keepers of the tipua, but cannot abide your roads into our souls, the pollution and damming of our pure waters, and the ripping apart of our very bowels as you plunder our essence - we offer you so much with our mere presence and yet you steal what should sustain you the most - WHY!"
This is a place I always walk softly and quietly, and I listen to these voices. The song of the Tawhairauriki.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whakamoemiti (Thanksgiving)

The above photo is a little blurry, a little out of focus. It was taken a few years ago when my friend Jeff was visiting from the states, and along with John, we headed into the Ruahine for a few days of mountain wandering. On this day we left our gear at the hut and climbed up to the tops. Always a pleasure to walk through the layers of the forest, leaving the river muttering below and climbing into the tussock and then the clouds. Only for me, on this day, it was not a pleasure. My hip hurt dreadfully, I could literally feel and hear bone grinding upon bone, and during the climb up all I wanted was to be done with it. On the way down I told Jeff and John to walk ahead as I was holding them back, that I would make my own way down. It was the first time I realized the true extent of my problem, and the anger I felt at my body disintegrating at this moment here with a treasured friend, friends, was palpable. The truth of what the real meaning of this all meant to my even being in these places filled me with dread and fear. It was not my best moment in the mountains.

Then, slowly struggling down the steep spur, I heard a sound I could not place. I thought at first it was a bird call I had not heard before, but as I got further down I realized it was the music of a harmonica. Only two people I know carry harmonicas in the mountains, my friend Jeff, and me, and Jeff gave me mine. I stopped above him and just listened, to the forest, to the music, and I just watched him amongst these mountains, so comfortable and so at home on this mossy knoll high in the forest. My friend had waited for me to make sure I was okay. In possibly the lonliest moment in my life, a good friend sat below me patiently waiting for ME. First hearing, and then seeing, his presence sent a rush of warmth through my entire being. So the photo is a bit out of focus as my vision was a bit out of focus, washed by tears of realization that I have such people, such places in my life. That somehow I would rise up and meet the challenges ahead. That these mountains will never leave me. I am part of them. I am thankful for that.

Mountain tipua (Guardian Spirit)

The silhouettes of the tawhairauriki against the setting sky I have always felt connected to and deeply moved by. As if they are the true soul or tipua of the mountains themselves, wise teachers whom we can choose to learn from or not. Both defiant and beseeching to the heavens above. As if they are saying " We will deal with the northwest gales, the damp and cold, the snow and sleet, the thin mountain soil into which we spread our roots, that is our lot. But you self important human abusers of the Papatuanuku, you we cannot bear because you do not come in Peace, and so I thrust my fingers and limbs to the sky in defiance and warning you to stop. You are only here for a brief moment, and refuse to learn what the mountains Teach and you do not Listen. Our friendship has been refused. No mines, no dams, no roads, no poisoning of our pure waters. Leave us alone".
I am Thankful for the Mountain Lessons as well.

I am Thankful for the many beautiful pieces to my life. My family and friends far and near, my beautiful wife whom I watch unfold into a more amazing woman each day, my sons, Taylor and Charlie offering each moment the ups and downs of parenthoood as they both also unfold into themselves.
I am thankful for the people whom visit here, your presence and encouragement are a constant source of inspiration.
In this moment though right here right now, I am most Thankful to the mountains. For finding me, for saving me, for teaching me how to Listen. For giving the strength and fortitude to find my way back to something I nearly lost. It has been a very good year.
Happy Whakamoemiti!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Brief Tale of Sons and Fathers

Two experienced Ruahine travelers.

This beautiful mountain waterfall and pool lies in the Ruahine around 1150 metres or so. As one approaches the golden tussock and open tops it is a lovely sight to come upon with a heavy pack and know some hard graft is done, take off the pack and rest and reward myself with the taste of pure mountain water. I have visited it many times now, coming and going, and have always loved this little spot. The water is most often ice cold, the tupare in front and glistening in the sun will tell you this place is relatively high up. Tupare only starts appearing when you have reached 900 metres plus. So this crystal clear, cold, pure water is born from the high slopes indeed. It has always called strongly to be dove into, but my burdens going up or down have never allowed me.

On a recent walk Charlie did just that. He stopped here and gazed upon this pool for the first time. He drank from it, felt the tingling coldness. Up higher on the tops, where we were for the afternoon and a nice lunch, he decided he wanted to swim in that pool. He has seen many photos of me "swimming" in ice cold Ruahine pools and this was his time to be introduced to exactly what that means. We were in no hurry, so we walked back down to that pool, 10 minutes or so, him barefoot wearing only a pair of shorts, which as obviously above he soon shed. His clenched little fists tells the whole story of the pucker one feels upon entering the bracing chill of the mountain water. He was weighing it all up. His mind working furiously no doubt, all quickly ending up at the inevitable realization that this water is far farking colder than he thought!

Yes, Charlie, the relative shelter of escape is near, just right behind you.

But in he goes! I am not sure who yelled louder. Charlie, screaming and frantically extracting himself, or me, out of being proud that Charlie understood this moment perfectly without me uttering a word, just being there. And also laughing my head off watching him actually dive in that freezing pool. We stood in the sun as he shivered and dried. I took off my own shirt to wipe him down a bit, but it is always best to let the mountain breeze dry off the moisture. You tingle, you are Alive!

I love the similarity between me, above, and Charlie in the third photo above. A different place to be sure, deeper in the Ruahine, but I am still singing the "Can I extract myself from this Ruahine Blues".

You never REALLY thought I would back away did you?