Posted: June 20, 2016
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Lessons from the Motatau Marae


The gate was opened and we stepped into the forest, barefoot and wide-eyed. I was ready to open my mind to new knowledge, but unaware that my heart must also be ajar. We made our way, together yet alone, down to the stream to dip our toes in and take a rejuvenating breath. As I ventured away from the stream bank, I crouched down to see the forest from the plants’ perspective. I squatted in silence, toes curled in the layers of damp decaying leaves, and a fantail bird flitted by. I noticed the thousands of epiphytes growing on top of the canopy’s pillars, creating layers upon layers of life. Tuhe, the Maori healer who welcomed us into this protected forest, will never know the value of the gift he gave me that afternoon.

Taking a lunch break on a hike through the Prime Family’s property near Motatau

The SFS Rainforest Management Studies summer program has spent about two weeks in New Zealand, during which the forest has become synonymous to humanity in my mind. We are each individuals embarking on separate journeys, yet we are part of a larger group associated with much beyond ourselves, just as every living thing in the forest is inextricably tied to the others. Every person is mighty yet fragile, just like the heart of the New Zealand rainforest, the kauri tree.

New Zealand kauri tree

I think I speak for the entire group of 24 students when I say I have been inspired by the Maori peoples’ spiritual connection to the environment, and the dedication with which they seek to protect it. As our travels continue through the North Island and over to Australia in the coming weeks, I will strive to live like them in how I perceive and treat both the forest and the people around me.

Walking through Ruapekapeka pa

The accepting and supportive community we have formed as a student group is the best bundle of people to share the beauty and serenity of the rainforest with. We all come from many different places and backgrounds, but we have meshed together to discover the wonders of the natural world and learn how we might effectively conserve the spirit of the land. We have been welcomed into new places to connect with the flora and fauna, just as the indigenous people have done before us. As the lines between nature and humanity continue to blur and oscillate during our travels, I trust we will each connect a bit more with ourselves as well.

Post-field lecture in the Waitakere Ranges

All Photos by Lucy Portman

→ Rainforest Studies in New Zealand and Australia

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