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

 

Words

They are hitchhikers and stowaways from our past
that happened to come along for the ride with us
Such treasure! Better than cathedrals
You can keep your Mona Lisa – words need no security system
Just keep using.

They are nuggets of humanness
So irrepressible – you try telling a word to shut up –
Each is the perfect crystallisation of an idea:

 ambivalence     tantamount      taonga
quizzical      dank

They form around the germ of a notion:

disconcerting     chirrup      warp
Antarctica      tundra     whiff

Or a feeling:

huddle     grit      umbrage      quail
ardent     tendentious     outrage    bruise

What a gift for us all:

kerfuffle     crumple    musafir   nostril    consummate    merry

Some get lost along the way –

Did you know that a ream used to mean the ripple made by the nose of a swimming otter?
That dimmity once meant twilight?
Or that a shippen was a shelter for cattle left open on one side?

Drop them one at a time into some pond into your mind
let them ripple out in welling concentricities
Where did they come from?
How did this
Come to express exactly that
So beautifully?