Kokako encounter at Tunawaea

Christine and I take the Tawa line –
This weekend we are rat trappers in a hidden valley
Lovely Tunawaea, nestled behind the folds of back blocks King Country
and guardian to an elusive bird…
We pursue a wiggly web of markers and bait stations
the pair of us at sea on waves of ridges,
like Pericles setting out from the island of Tyre –
Off we go trustingly following from point
to numbered point
and matching them up with our chart
Christine does the odds and I’m the evens –
Where on Earth is north in all this waggle?
I can tell when the sun comes out

We stop for sandwiches, Christine and I,
in a tawa cathedral
We pause to gaze up the dim columns
ethereal and vanishingly tall,
hazed with a fresco of leaves against light
Dripping banks of kidney fern glow green in candlelight
like a cloak of blown glass fragments
wrapping the soft logginess of the damp sponge floor
But this place has an extra gift for us;
This cathedral has a choir:
Kokako

Ghostly divas in an invisible circle
weaving gentle magic
It feels like eavesdropping on mellow love songs from a lost world
It sounds like the haunting creak of an old swing
Strangely resonant, languid and drooping out of key
Sighing wine glass harmonics heavy and full
Low modal voices leaning into each other
to sing in otherworldly harmony,
the plangently intimate conversations of forest beings
who are utterly indifferent to us on the ground –
beguiling bells that would taste, if they could,
of dark plums on the edge of overripe.

Perhaps they are like gleams of sunlight concentrated into sound –
Energy escaping from one form to another –
Light fall distilled into eerie oboe antiphony
Pooling light, pooling water unspool in sound –

Who can spin the golden sunlight into song?
Who? Who? Who?
Kokako can!
And who can gather the loose skeins of silver rain and give them form again?
Kokako can, kokako can!

The richness of the trees
and the fullness of the earth
combing out the mist and weaving matter into music
teasing out strands of energy into soft waves
belling, welling…

Days later, I’m still open-eared for reedy tubish sounds but there’s really nothing like it.
For me there was a sense of grace but also of loss.
Our kokako choir was an evocation of a past I was born too late for –
remade in imagination as if through curtains of mist,
from fossils, stories and bones –
a dream of an ancient untouched Aotearoa
like a great beached waka,
Alive with vast forests and giant eagles
loud with bird song,
Once were moa
Once were huia
Please don’t leave us, kokako

 

Photograph: Jacqui Geux

 

In a Gully at Tawharanui

In stillness so profound that even a leaf fall seems a dramatic event,
I become a tree.
My blood courses through puriri old as time
My arm curves in a sinewy twist
carved out inside like a sea-worm mollusc
My toes ooze along into mud and dead leaves where saddle-back scurry
My great knuckles grip arthritically in gnarly knots –
a sulky old toads eyes or a giant tuatara stretched down the bank,
or maybe one of his jurassic compatriots from long ago
waiting

Rearing upright now, I give a mammoth – yawn – 
revealing a gaping hollow belly.
Alongside my bulging elbow
jut lines of rib cage
left over when all else has crumbled into earth.
I still cradle the ancient skeleton
of a pre-historic bird,
Or perhaps it is the remains of a waka?

Bony and fossilised as I am, however,
the tips of my fingers still reach for the light,
sprouting tender leaves and cupping birds nests.
In my hair young bellbirds fluff up their feathers
and a tiny warbler trills so hard
that even his tail trembles.
Boundaries of life and death blur when you are a tree

 

A Myna for Maree

Indigenous birds are our most treasured, but this Ponsonby identity has won a few hearts. My friend Maree raised an orphaned myna bird from a chick, and now it’s part of the family, when it chooses to be.

Peeking puppetwise over the guttering, a street urchin myna joins us for coffee one Sunday afternoon.
I think her name is Clementine, for the miner 49er, and his light-footed daughter.
She’s hilariously trusting – which is a bit of a worry,
even though the cat has no less than seven bells.

Maybe, if she turns out to be he,
he can be Gavroche – the Paris street-kid from Les Mis!
He certainly employs all that one’s cockney charm –
feet planted wide, tilted hat,
cheeky grin – a tiny David, undaunted by we tall Goliaths.

He hops after the car like a dog and right on into the house where he takes refreshing baths in the kitchen sink,
fluffing up the grey and white feathers on his breast and dipping his beak (or her one)
yellow as a traffic light pole
spatter, spatter, spatter! Oh dear, more cleaning!

Tilting her head like she’s totting up a shopping bill, she follows our conversation – drinking in voice tone
and tugging at my shoelaces in case they’re tasty.
She deigns to accept bits of jammy scone
but is too sensible to actually sit on hand –
oh, but then she jumps on Maree’s knee after all.
A loveable rogue – eyeing us up shrewdly –
curious as a crook.

I think of Ping on the Yangtze River –
or that robin that visited by my tent once to sit on my sleeping bag as I read my book, near Flora hut.
She dances and struts in front of a mirror and poses for a blurry photo
almost squashed up against the phone;
the beak appears as a slash of yellow paint.
A cocky, fragile opportunist,
of somewhat short life expectancy I fear –
All cockney rhyming slang and rude words;
she haunts the cafe on Richmond Rd
stealing the froth off cappucinos
hen hiding among legs when expelled in disgrace
(for numerous sins – especially pooping).

Already the odd feather short from a brisk feline encounter,
She’d better keep her wits about her or she’ll lose the lot.
She has her own lodgings in Bird City,
which is the phoenix palm in the garden, along with the sparrows and pigeons.
It’s such a privilege to hobnob with this little alien person;
to be trusted seems like a miracle.

She’s just young and gets tired quickly;
soon she falls asleep on my foot – and makes my day.

20180829_122059.jpg

The Council has Spoken

There are just too many of us. Time to grow up, be civilised and live in apartments.
The city is like Sophie’s bedroom –  we’ve used up all the floor space in cunningly arranged jigsaws.
3D, now, is the only solution –
Wardrobes on the ceiling, houses in the sky.

The birds will teach us – The sparrow that has a home in an old heating vent up Valley Road spares me a moment to give me some pointers.
“After all”, she says, “our kind have been doing this for so long it doesn’t bear thinking about. If you’re considering high rise you could do worse than look at the phoenix palms”

So, on her instructions, off I trot to Horoeka Ave. Sure enough, the wide girthed tree is a veritable condominium for birds.
In the penthouse on the top, pigeons rrrooo coooo –
They wiggle their bottoms, waft gracefully in and out, swap gossip and groom themselves like ladies in a Spanish hairdressers.
Extended families of sparrows have occupied the cheaper units further down the trunk.
Grey stubs of fallen branches make perfect perches and cosy nesting holes.
Cousins squabble and dads fly in with useful twigs from Bunnings.

Rumour has it that kingfishers also find old phoenixes commodious, but I didn’t see any. Competition is fierce in the big smoke and maybe the sparrows won.

For myself, I think I’ll keep my feet on the ground – or escape like those kingfishers – unless I can really live in a tree…