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The Magic's in the Choosing

Exploring the wider realm of Southland/Murihiku’s hills, mountains, and ngāhere in winter.

Shadowed rātā forests, copper-coloured streams, muddy steps, and the pounding sea give way to sunny tussock glades and crunching frost. Last winter’s Fiordland excursions dominated by the former and the present defined by the latter. This season my gaze has fallen upon the hilly hinterland of Southland/Murihiku and as my feet have followed, I’ve discovered yet another layer to my affection for this land and an understanding of my place within it.

Tiny orange huts that bring history to life, dappled green beech forest to make the heart sing, and acres of golden tussock stand out as key features in the lesser-known conservation areas of Southland/Murihiku. The first night I spent in one of these huts hooked me for life. As Geoff Spearpoint aptly describes, “In some of these older huts the boards may be wobbly, the bunks rough and cobwebs hang from the rafters, but sleep is as deep as the stars are high.”

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On a particularly memorable trip, camping beside the confluence of the Spence and Aparima Rivers, I stepped out of my tent to discover the Milky Way partially veiled in luminous light cloud renting the sky above me. Instantly I felt more connected to and appreciative of this place. It was like seeing it with new eyes.

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Sometimes I overlook the value of that which is right in front of my nose. I forget that stars shine brightly above forests just as they do above mountains. I write things off in my mind because they’re developed, no longer ‘natural’, like the journey of this very river downstream. What if I stop to consider the history and the interconnected pieces of the puzzle that is place?

Exploring the wider realm of Southland/Murihiku’s hills, mountains, and ngāhere this winter has meant frozen feet, tussock-drenched arms and legs, and cold nights spent huddled beside smoldering smoky fires. The experience has also provided me with a chance to learn the wisdom of beech forests, the value of shelter, and to consider the many threads that weave this district together.

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Where do I fit in as I move through this landscape? I can stand from a place of knowing that I belong to the land while understanding that the land has never and will never belong to me. I can seek teachers in the forest, the water, the hills and the elders of this place in a humble effort to connect deeper.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for claiming me. I want nothing more than to belong.

The magic’s in the choosing. I chose to be here and I choose it again each day.

A modified version of this piece first appeared in The Journal of Lost Time in August 2021.

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