Chapter XX. — The Chartographers of the Station
The Chartographers of the Station.
If the principle of the martyrdom of man has held in regard to the pioneers of Tutira, twice over is it true of the Tutira flock, each generation of which has been decimated for the benefit of its successor.
The sheep of the station are, in sober truth, working out their own salvation. They are returfing the naked windblows, hardening the erst-while dangerous fords, drying the bogs and marshes, building viaducts, shaping sleeping-shelves, exposing pitfalls and chasms. They are remodelling the run to suit their peculiar requirements. In this good work of reclamation other stock have participated. It is the sheep, however, that has borne the burden and heat of the day; it is owing to him that for his race the run is more easy to perambulate, more safe to traverse.
The first newcomer, however, to score a mark on the station was the pig. Swine, however, are but poor surveyors; they lack all sense of grading, climbing indifferently the steepest slopes, zigzagging in their ascent like man, in descent charging downhill like landslips. At the utmost, pig may perhaps have discovered to us some half-dozen narrow precipitous gorge crossings. Before the advent of sheep, and therefore before the establishment of sheep-camps growing grass and clover, there was nothing to tempt pig from the low grounds. There they lived and bred, trenching and terracing the hillsides in search of fern root, their staple food. Their runs, bored through the overarching scrub, were at intervals punctuated with wallowing pits—pig baths; not infrequently these runs lapsed into mere wedges in the soil, so narrow as to be scraped smooth by the sides of the animals using them. In the clearance of pig from the station I have travelled miles of these abominable tracks on all-fours. Pig tracks, in a word, have been useless in the opening up of the run.page 181
Cattle have been equally unhelpful in the mapping of the station. They are creatures of the plain and wide river-bed, unsuited to country like Tutira, where the streams flow confined in narrow gorges. Cattle tracks, moreover, usually lead to trouble, the hoof formation of the great beasts enabling them to negotiate ground where neither sheep nor mounted shepherd dare follow.
As animals gone wild, horses have left no trace. Driven in packteams, they have done work that will be described later.
It is sheep that have surveyed Tutira. In the early days they worked the tops and upper slopes. Later, owing to the destruction of fern, tutu, and koromiko, it became possible for them to tread a middle course; at length they were able to circle the bases of the hills.
Following in the wake of his charge the shepherd's path too has declined in altitude. In the late 'seventies advantage was taken of the hill-top tracks. In the late 'eighties those of the higher sidlings were utilised. In the late 'nineties we followed sheep-paths along the low slopes. Every shepherd's beat on the run is a sheep-path broadened and trodden out. Now, after forty years, the latter number hundreds of thousands. From every camp they radiate like roads from a city. They are, in fact, roads from a city, for to sheep their camping-ground is as his town to man, at once a refuge and a resting-place.
There are on every station two types of path—the one, the line of morning dispersal and evening reunion, beautifully graded; the other, much more steep, called into being by the instinctive desire of frightened page 182 sheep immediately to climb to the tops. What may be termed the normal arterial system of each centre, of each sheep-camp, has also in modern times been affected by such arbitrary barriers as fencing-lines. By them sheep are forced to climb when they would prefer to wind, or in shepherd's phrase, to string to their camps on comfortable grades.
There are still on the largest remaining paddocks examples of these graded narrow paths, but the best, alas! have been ruined by the abominable utilitarian necessity for subdivision of land.
On closer inspection, too, the channel of a sheep-stream will show the typical scour of water action. There will be found just such islands page 183 and aits as separate the channels of a water-stream. On trails where, as sometimes happens, mobs are always driven out in one direction and always return by another route, these aits and islands of bracken permanently maintain a somewhat deltoid shape. On the main stock-route, along which an ovine current flows like a tide both toward the wool-shed and away from it, deltoids become lanceolate or sharply ovoid, like the raised “refuges” of city thoroughfares.
The stages through which every paddock of Tutira has passed in its alteration from tutu and fern to grass are known to the reader. He will recollect that bracken and scrub, in early days, grew nearly everywhere tall and rank enough to shut out sunlight from the soil; that in the 'nineties the effect of stocking began to show itself in their weakened growth; he will remember, too, that from time to time the country used to be swept bare by extensive fires. Keeping these facts in mind, we page 184 shall be able to trace the change from an open track into a high single or double hedge. Like other minor phenomena of the station, a combination of special conditions has been essential to their creation. For the development of the former there has been particularly required a steep slope in soft soil, a more or less straight ascent and a heavy rainfall. The single hedge, moreover, belongs to very early times, when the flock was small, when vegetation—especially of the trough of the run—was practically unaffected by the few sheep carried, when after a fire, fern and tutu again choked the countryside. In those days, stock driven from one part of the run to another had to be jammed into this growth, a passage forced by the aggregate weight of the mob, as into an almost solid substance. There was but little spread in the movement of the driven animals,—the narrow spear-head of trampled bracken was flattened as if rolled by machinery; with repetition the trodden vegetation was destroyed; later again, in the centre of the wedge, a depression became worn by traffic. By the action of rain-storms and thunder-showers the little depression was gutted into a wide bare rut; on the sides of this rut manuka seed lodged and germinated. That is the first phase.
We have now to suppose that for some reason or another the route was abandoned. Perhaps a more convenient alternative track had been discovered, perhaps sheep were being exclusively used for breaking in another part of the run. Whatever the reason may have been, the line falls into disuse; the manuka which had germinated on the edges of the rut, the only open ground in the vicinity, grows undisturbed into tall plants.
The next factor we have to consider is fire. A little, an extremely little difference in surroundings will affect flames not running over thick growth; moisture emanating from a single fleecy cloud, green growth of plants that spring up alongside paths little used, sorrel, clover, cape-weed, will damp down and extinguish them. Checked on either side, fires to a great degree die down in the vicinity of stock-routes; sections, at any rate, of such paths remain unburnt—sections so continuous that sometimes an old drove-track can be picked up by its tall manuka at a distance of miles, a line of hedge marking exactly where years before the wedge of stock had been driven into dense bracken. A particularly well-accentuated example of this single hedge development used to extend—ploughshare and axe have done their work—from page 185 the Maheawha crossing of the Tutira stream to the summit of the Image Hill.
The double hedge-line belongs to a later period, its growth synchronising with the increase of the flock. By the 'nineties, the numbers of sheep and lambs shorn on the station had trebled. In addition, ten, twelve, and fifteen thousand sheep used yearly to be borrowed for crushing purposes during the spring months. Huge hungry mobs driven in and out from the wool-shed during the shearing season passed along the stock-routes. About their centres—the current of a drove of animals is like that of a watercourse, strongest in mid-stream—vegetation was worn away, crushed and destroyed. On the flanks and wings, attrition, though less marked, was yet sufficiently strong perceptibly to check growth. The consequence was that on the edges of each stock-track seeds hitherto unable to germinate for want of light, plants hitherto unable to breathe for want of air, took possession, succulent green stuff such as white clover, suckling, cape-weed, and sorrel seized on the open soil.
Fire still ran over great areas from time to time, though not with the same sweeping violence as of yore. The bracken had become stunted and sparse, there was less of it everywhere to carry a fire. The heat, therefore, and height of a conflagration already weakened, was still further diminished as it reached the wings of the stock-track. As in the miracle of Gideon's fleece, what happened on the neighbouring lands did not happen on the stock-routes,—they remained green when the ground alongside was black.
The spread of Leptospermum scoparium—manuka—has been described; it appeared during the 'nineties on every scrap of land open to the sun, and germinated thickly over the breadth of the stock-routes. In the middle of each, however, where the current was most violent, its delicate seedlings were trampled and trodden into the ground, and were thus destroyed. On the other hand, plants on page 186 each of the edges or wings of the track survived and grew into tall shrubs.
There came a time at last when travelling mobs, driven to and fro over the run, moved between hedges moulded exactly on the windings and meanderings of the great stock-routes. It must not, however, be supposed that these hedges were anywhere continuous for more than a chain or two at a stretch. Fires, though less frequent and less sweeping, did sometimes manage to reach one wall of hedge, even on occasion to cross the trail, destroying the tall growth on either side. The main stock-route of Tutira could nevertheless at one time be traced for miles by hedges of manuka and by great individual bushes, one of which has for long gone by the name of Harry Young's shaving-brush. They are survivors of heavier fires that here and there had managed to cross the hedge-lines.
Conditions essentially similar, though less interesting because less naturally reached, tend to produce scrub-hedges along the modern highway bisecting the run. As its width of twenty-two yards is fenced on either side, there is no room for mobs to spread. On either side of the crown of the road, therefore, bracken has been completely worn away and manuka taken its place. Were it not for the requirements of the local roadmen, who use the scrub for repairs, the Napier-Wairoa road would throughout the length of Tutira pass between solid hedges of manuka.
The initial stages of these single and double hedge-tracks have been described as primarily worn in the thick vegetation of olden days during a period when the range of sheep was circumscribed by surrounding fern and scrub. On the crests of certain spurs on eastern Tutira down which sheep similarly confined by bracken-growth used to troop, where manuka never grew and where the surface took grass readily, there are tracks of another sort deeply fretted into the soil itself. During forty seasons each twist and turn has been deepened by the action of rain. They stand out as relief work and promise to last for an indefinite period, too narrow and deep for present traffic, but scooped afresh each year by flood-water.
Harry Young's Shaving-Brush.
A survivor of one of the scrub hedges that mark the line of old stock routes.
Horse-tracks moulded on sheep-paths, when once stamped hard, do not readily alter their curves,—once a bend always a bend is the general rule. Sinuosities do, however, change with change of pace in the animals using the track. Two such instances occur to me: one between the Conical Hill and Caccia's Crossing, the other on a line roughly parallel with the present coach-road. Season by season I have seen their twistings straighten, their bendings disappear, in the same manner and for the same reason as have those of the curves and corners of the great main road between Napier and Wairoa. Their alteration page 188 suggests in how large a degree every accomplishment of man is but a development of subconscious action.
The origins of the curves and windings of the original pack-trails of Tutira are known now to very few, some indeed only to myself, the surviving prehistoric packman of the station. I recollect the main obstacles just as some hind must, ages ago, have marked the trivial difficulties that account for the meanderings of an English footpath betwixt village and village. These, however, if consciously noted at all, have never been told. On Tutira such trails have been watched with interest from the beginning; their origins are now immortalised in ink. Where this sharp salient survives, flourished at one time three great tutu shrubs, whose projecting branches interfered with the pack-team's loads. I remember a fellow-packman felling them furious at the delay caused. This bend on the trail avoided a grove of manuka. I remember it tall and green. At this pronounced curve once lay the carcase of a horse, left where the poor beast had been dropped by natives on some hunting expedition. I have sniffed the reek of the beast, and recollect how the team day after day shied off to windward. This elbow marked the spot where at one time lay an immense totara log, afterwards sawn into strainers. The causes of the curves disappear, the stumps and roots of the offending tutu trees decay against which thirty years ago the loads of our pack-team used to strike. Fire passes through the manuka grove, its scorched poles fall to the ground; the stench of the dead horse passes away, its bones are scattered far and wide by pig; the great totara bole stiffens a fencing-line or supports a gate, yet still the curves themselves remain.
The lesser sinuosities of a pack-trail can only be generally accounted for. They result from a host of temporary insignificant local difficulties—little hollows and dips, dead brushwood cumbering the ground, projecting vegetation, loose spars of surface timber, spongy land, page 191 even thickets of thistles. Like the major impediments cited, they too pass away and are forgotten. Attrition by frost and wind wears down the little hillocks, rain fills the hollows with soil, the dead brushwood rots, its mould is blown abroad, strips of projecting vegetation are destroyed by stock, the surface timber is burnt, the soft ground hardens, with autumn rains the thistle stems fail. Each of these first causes, seemingly ephemeral as the reek from the dead pack-horse or the smoke from the scrub and thistle fires, is nevertheless still marked in the material world.
Besides the general opening up of the run by means of trails and tracks, the stocking of Tutira has produced phenomena which, though of minor importance, have been—and after all this is his book—of interest to the writer. One of these has been the metamorphosis of many of the hill-tops, a change which it is easy to imagine might in future confound and confuse the natural philosopher. The soils of Tutira are familiar to the reader, the uppermost layer, humus resting on a layer of pumice grit, this grit resting in its turn on a deposit of packed red sand. The original vegetation of the run has also been a dozen times described—fern rank and luxurious on the cold east and south aspects, less exuberant page 192 on the warmer, drier north and west hill-slopes, short and sparse on the tops.
Perhaps, however, of all surface modifications consequent on the stocking of land, the most curious is the formation of sleeping-shelves, ledges built by sheep themselves for their own convenience. Every day sheep from every camp on the run spread to feed—every evening they return to sleep. Their instinctive desire is at night to lie on a summit; page 195 like other creatures, however, the sheep has to compromise with his ideal; economy of physical labour forbids too long a daily climb to camp, too great a daily descent to graze. The primitive instinct, therefore, that safety can only be attained on the highest possible top, becomes modified by custom. In practice, at any rate, the sheep does not always sleep on the summits or crowns of hills. On extensive stretches where there are no available natural camping sites, where hill-tops are distant, or where cliff formation makes their attainment difficult, camps are formed on the slopes. It is in such localities that sleeping-shelves have grown out from the hillsides, like the lip ornaments of the women of certain African tribes, or as fungus projects from dead timber. They are built with the same enormous patience as are the viaducts—decades going towards the construction of a perfect ledge. Each of them represents the labour of generations of sheep—the thousandfold repetition of a natural habit. Before a sheep lies down, his custom is to turn round twice or thrice like a dog. He then rests with his feet beneath his body. On an even slope, such as we have imagined, his slipping downhill is only prevented by the resistance of hoof and knee. His weight presses the turf upon which he lies downwards in an immeasurably minute degree, and inwards also to an extent almost equally intangible. For long these two opposite pressures, inward and downward, are the only factors that count. Later, however, the mere bulge in the hillside becomes the incipient shelf. Its projection begins to arrest the almost infinitesimal amount of water-borne silt that percolates through the grass-blades during wet weather. As the sheep, turning and scraping, settles himself for the night, in dry weather a small quantity of dust is likewise shuffled towards the outer edge of the shelf. At a more advanced stage—a sheep does not always rise to relieve himself—his droppings begin, instead of rolling down the slope, to rest on the lip of the now rapidly - growing ledge. In summer they blend with the dust of his nightly circlings and preliminaries of rest. With slight rains and dews they are trodden into a compost that nourishes the grass-roots. The sleeping-ledge in time becomes perfect, thrusting itself out at right angles to the slope, like a swallow's nest gummed to a wall. The tendency of the most highly-finished of these sleeping-shelves is to become in their last stage very slightly concave, their edges upheld chiefly by a mass of meadow-poa roots. They must then, on a well-drained slope, be most dry and comfortable couches. page 196 Throughout the pumiceous area, where the soil is gritty and friable and where erosion is easy, there can be noted in these shelves a certain troglodytic tendency, their backs slightly concave, or, at any rate, perfectly upright and bare of grass. On stiff lands, in fact, the shelves tend to work outwards, on friable soils to work inwards.
Not one of these surface changes, directly or indirectly brought about by stock, can be considered other than insignificant; yet their aggregate has sufficed to alter the surface of Tutira in an almost incredible degree. Although, maybe, that change has been of greater interest to the writer than to his readers, at any rate it will have enabled them to realise the cumulative result of trivialities.