Agatha and Me
Call me a greenie or a bleeding heart if you want to but when I came upon a 1000 year old kauri tree on my Sunday jaunt through the nearby Waitakere Ranges, I found it irresistibly huggable.
Agatha and Me...
In comparative human time it's barely past adolescence and could be here for another 1000 years barring lightning strike, landslide, continental drift, nuclear war or boredom (2000 years is a long time rooted in one place). The Kauri tree is known by the rather graceless and unfortunate botanical term agathis australis, so my new friend is known locally as Agatha, not a favourite name of mine but we don't want to cause an arboreal identity crisis by giving Agatha a new name just now. Trees have consciousness too and these wonderful revelations of God move us in ways beyond our minds comprehension – we all come from the Universal Consciousness and are connected in the great stream of life. My new friend is also a distant relative and conjoined with me in spirit and sitting quietly on the forest floor, my back against the rough bark and the dawn sun colouring the hillsides and valleys with a changing golden light, I can sink back – mmmmm – into a nourishing and soothing silence.
Agatha's first 900 years were spent peacefully growing up in one of the greatest botanical cathedrals of planet earth – 200 foot high forest giants of breathtaking splendour and girth, filled with gorgeous birds and daylong birdsong. My colonial predecessors smashed the majestic virgin kauri forests that mantled these western mountains the way a thoughtless child smashes a toy – part of the insane ecological holocaust ongoing even today – and Agatha lived through all that, a lonely survivor among the tragic wreckage of an ancient dynasty of trees.
The mystic and animistic traditions of our ancestors seem remote from us now, insulated as we are by roads and concrete walls and carefully devised urban landscapes that protect us from our worst fears, and now we only 'visit' nature, tourists of our last womb-wildernesses, armed with our maps and cellphones to ward off the unthinkable. But the ancient impulses are still there, and seated beneath Agatha's towering arms I can feel these faculties becoming sharpened inside me along with a sense of release from the burden of myself and my anxious life.
I like these hours wandering in a garden of ridges and deep valleys and effortless beauty, hearing the water in the streambed far below and the language of the forest all around. In the sunlight the air is filled with teeming embryonic life, millions of tiny spores drizzling from the green fronds of the mamaku and the waist high thickets of ferns – I breathe them in joyfully.
We need whatever it is these sanctuaries provide. Untamed nature can be a harsh learning place but also a great schoolroom of self-knowledge – and here where the wilderness of nature and the wild places of the mind intersect, we are often undone. I remember once camped on an alpine ridge just below the snowline in Westland National Park, miles from the civilised world. Shortly after midnight a storm blew up and high winds toppled huge black beech trees to – all around me the crash of giant trees tearing down through the canopy to the ground. Eyes wide with fear, and nowhere to go or hide in the inky blackness, I lay there praying with a trembling fervour to God. At dawn a scene of utter devastation all around me – but miraculously I had been granted life.
Such moments that our modern world so carefully shields us from are treasures that never leave our memory, moulding us without gentleness or pity. Our 'self' is pared away and we are opened up to the capriciousness of life and death, only a moment of chance apart, and to the primal fears and trapdoors that open in the wild places of our minds.
Nature is a repository of many potential experiences that ground us and make us better, more complete – and here, as in meditation, all our sensibilities converge toward new insight and discernment. Cut off from all this, we become less human, less civilised.
A part of us grieves for our vanishing wild places and much of my own love of wilderness has an underlying melancholy. Our token parks and reserves, the pocket handkerchief remnants fenced off from encroaching farms into lonely islands, proclaimed to assuage our guilt, do not lessen our sadness at what we have done. Nor do these sustain the life they once bore – disconnected from the far-off mountains, diminutive in size, often trampled and plundered, they are silent museum pieces waiting for their own demise.
At least Agatha is safe while I live and breathe – she is a symbol of something precious for me that I am happy to bleed and sacrifice for. She is the song of eternity, the beauty of God, the glory of nature, the sanctity of the sacred, a glimpse through a lovely, disappearing window into an irretrievable past, an inviolable last remnant that must be gifted to the future. And in some barely understood way she is myself – I find my own spirit when seated at her feet.
In a Jewish tale a young boy is asked by his teacher why he ran away from the community and into the forest time after time despite being frequently found out and punished. His rabbi asked him: "Why do you waste your time in the forest? Why do you go there?" " am looking for God", said the boy. "Isn't God everywhere?" asked the rabbi, "And isn't He everywhere the same?" "Yes," said the boy, "but I am not." (From Moment and Memory)
- Trip to Cascades Kauri Park – The Sri Chinmoy Centre Gallery.
- About New Zealand – natural history and settlement.
- Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand