I spent my final two days in Aotearoa/New Zealand in the Alps, mountains we can only dream about in Ireland, only 3 or 4 kilometres from a main road and more of an isolated outback than anywhere on our island, purely due to the ruggedness of the territory.
I pushed myself pretty hard, got off the beaten track, had my ‘alone time’ to reflect, physically exhausted my hiking legs and got the feel for big mountain territory in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
The weather was ideal- high pressure, completely clear visibility. Deciding not to take a regular Department of Conservation track pitted me into the rock, bush and wild river environments which gave up their wonders. I had an alone, not lonely, 2 days including hut overnight and walked out full up, emptied and ready to go home.
Kay Booth’s words rang in my ears on the higher slopes..’many visitors to New Zealand underestimate the hills each year’ and after a bit of a spill + cuts and grazes, I had to give myself a stern talking to. I prayed to the god of the hill.
Off the hot and tiring scree I reached the Alpine meadow, sunny and innocent. Later a young New Zealander advised..’you can never trust the rivers here’. Sure enough, my handrail downhill turned into a daunting event horizon and waterfall forcing an hour of retreat and bush-whacking as the sun sunk lower. Oh, to have his wisdom earlier.
Never so glad to see civilization, company, food, cheer and a kindly trucker who ferried my tired legs a final 7k of hard tarmac home to Arthur’s Pass. After a dead sleep and drive out, morning coffee in the nearest outpost, I had my best conversation to date with Dr Ihirangi Heke, indigenous Outdoor Education Consultant.
Not only is Ihi on the trail of his country’s (previously suppressed) indigenous sports, he is passionate about what they can potentially offer young Maori, searching their souls for meaning in a largely secular world.
I can’t quite articulate it yet, but there is a connection between Ihi’s quest and our own at Far and Wild. a quest into the soul of the land which goes beyond the vision of the world as ‘objects’ and animates it with mystery, inquiry, self-searching and ultimately meaning.
For the land, the tree, the flower is political, in that quiet, demonstrative sense of the term, it just IS and how dare we take it or try to own it or engulf it in our human, transitory projects.
It stares right back, asking, ‘Who Are You??!’