The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 10 (January 2, 1939)
Dream Places — Fruits of the Earth
For so, to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
A Kind Maori friend successfully spread a story in the Northland—the Kauriland of old romance—that I was a re-incarnation of a famous chief whose home was in Hawaiki long ages ago. So the Maori heart and hand went out to me in places of peace beyond the rustle and bustle of Auckland—Albert Edward Glover's “fair Queen City of the North which laves her feet in the blue and sparkling waters of the Waitemata.”
* * *
A tribe appointed three of its members as helpful companions, skilled in Polynesian story-telling and in arts and crafts for the making of cosy camps and preparing meals far away from all bugbears of cost of living.
There may be people in the Northland who worry about tallies of butterfat, tallow, hides and pelts, but I did not meet them. Human fuming and fussing would seem absurd in that land where the clock's pointed fingers are not constant goads as they are in less happy regions.
This sense of escape from the hurly-burly of life is partly due to the mild climate and partly to the merging of the Maori into the European in various localities. Even a slight tincture of Maori blood tends to an increase of philosophy and mellowness of temperament. It adds beauty to the eyes of girls and women and puts melody in their voices.
* * *
Mated tuis and bell-birds were singing their first love songs of spring when we camped in a ferny dell by a murmuring rill beyond Hokianga. From a secret creek, a favourite haunt of whitebait, we could easily scoop up half a bucket of the fish for breakfast.
One day I was taken in a canoe from Rawene up the Taheke Creek, a magic mirror in which weeping willows admire their tresses. Suddenly the little craft was moored by some steps which seemed to trickle out of a thicket. Up we went—and there it was, an inn of heart's desire, such a one as would have gladdened Gilbert Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc for one of their merry week-ends.
* * *
We rode horses by easy stages to the Bay of Islands. No wild galloping—just a gentle jogging. Word had gone ahead that we were on the march. So in villages Maoris sang and danced for us and called blessings upon us.
Indeed, everything was done to a song. My Maori attendants built the camps and paddled to chants of other days.
Here and there our gaze fell upon ancient fruit-trees, survivors of orchards planted by the early missionaries. No sign of a house; just a few old apple and pear trees mingled with kowhais and puriris which had sprung up near the aliens, as if to comfort them in their loneliness. What stories those fruit-trees could tell of homes which have vanished! I thought of verses of Madison Cawein:—
Never near, oh, never near,
Where all the dreams of the heart appear;
Where Reverie lays her spirit bare,
And Mystery lures with golden hair;
Oh, there, whatever the heart may hear—
Never near, oh, never near
Is the Land of Dreams that our hearts hold dear.
Never near and far away!
Oh, pale, pale lands where Yesterday
And dim To-morrow, like ghost with ghost,
Wander and whisper and beckon us most!
Open your gates that are twilight grey,
Never near and far away,
And let us in where our lost dreams stay.
* * *
We had a week at the head of a tidal creek in the Bay of Islands.
Here every place is a piece of history. One moonlit night a soft crooning of the ebb tide on the shore came to me as a lament for other days. Mingled with the sad sighing of phosphorescent waters was the plaintive trilling of night crickets.
In a reverie I heard again the chanties page 15 of sailors and the shouts of wild whalers in old Kororareka before the doubtful British authorities sent Captain Hobson with a few policemen to try to maintain order in that lawless settlement. Again I heard the war-cries of Hone Heke and his ally Kawiti, and the booming of the guns of H.M.S. Hazard.
To-day Russell is a rival of Akaroa as a place of peace. A cock-crow at dawn, waking people for work, is an impertinence by those restful shores. Truly do these lines of Swinburne apply to Russell:—
Here where the world is quiet,
Here where all trouble seems
Dead winds and spent waves riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams.
* * *
On the way to Whangarei I had some meditations by the tangled stands of mangroves which help to make the Northland different from any other part of New Zealand. They stir memories of old stories of boyhood's days—the escape of tortured slaves or other victims of cruelty and their lurking in tropical jungles of mangroves. They hid in peril of horrible fevers and crocodiles until a miracle swished them to safety.
But, of course, the mangroves of Northland are free from pests. They flourish in clean coastal waters and at the mouths of creeks where the salty tides can play.
Away we went across the peninsula to the Trounson Kauri Park with a good supply of cooked food and raw fruit, for it is almost a sacrilege to light a match for any purpose in that sanctuary. We were chatting about light things when we entered the forest, but soon silence came upon us. The wagging of a tongue, except in noble song or hymn, is ridiculous in that Temple of Nature, with its great canopy of green upheld by huge columns. In the musical murmur of the wind in the leafy heights, one could easily imagine the trees grieving for their brethren who had fallen before axe and saw, a sacrifice to settlement and commerce.
The estimated age of one Kauri King is more than twenty centuries. It was saluted by the seasons when Julius Caesar and his legions invaded Britain.
I remembered well a remark of Mr. Guthrie-Smith at his Tutira homestead two years ago in a chat about the main marvels of New Zealand. His vote was cast for a kauri forest and the vast night-flight of mutton-birds to an islet by Stewart Island.
No wonder that in the old Maori religion those tremendous trunks were regarded as limbs of the forest god Tane. What a pity that so many of them have been put to base uses! Perhaps some of the sawdust went into sausages long ago.
* * *
In another native forest, where we tarried for a few days, my thoughts wandered to Elsdon Best, who died some years ago. Many a time he camped alone in such woods, but never was he lonely.
“Loneliness is yet unknown to me, though solitude I know full well,” he once wrote. “Maybe, in the days that lie before, when books and memory fail me, when materials for writing are not, when I can no longer look upon the grand old forest, its every denizen, the gnarled, stunted growth of storm-lashed trunks, the stately peaks of terrace and valley, the wealth of shrubs and ferns; when I can no longer see to grope in dank spots for minute specimens of the molluscan fauna, nor hear the song of forest birds and the swirling waters of mountain streams, when the sun shines not and the mind refuses to follow the old discipline—then it may be that I shall know loneliness, and that will be a very good time to lift the trail of Maruiwi, the trail which Maui of old broke out in days when the world was young.”
* * *
My guides made camps in several sheltered green valleys by the sea, delightful abodes of the kind which inspired James Russell Lowell for some lines of his “Sirens”:—
Here all is pleasant as a dream;
The wind scarce shaketh down the dew;
The green grass floweth like a stream
Into the ocean's blue.
Listen! O, listen!
Here is a gush of many streams,
A song of many birds,
And every wish and longing seems
Lull'd to a number'd flow of words.
Listen! O, listen!
Here ever hum the golden bees
Underneath full-blossom'd trees,
At once with glowing fruit and flowers crown'd.
* * *
And yet into such Arcadias and Lands of Beulah one may be induced to receive an occasional deputation of bohemian writers, artists and musicians. Of course, they are not allowed a long stay.
[I made a mild protest when I was shown the drawing of the tail-piece of this meandering article. “Oh, let it go,” the editor said with a broad smile which threatened to turn into hearty laughter. “Besides, what else could you expect from ‘Thirteenth Cluers'? Anyhow, it's too late for an alteration.” Well, well … .]page 16