West Coast Walking

Stories.

They make up the majority of communication among people. They have the power to make us laugh, cry, or grow silent in awe. I love hearing stories and if you spend a few hours with me you will quickly find out I love telling stories just as much (if not more). As an ecology major, I love learning the stories of interconnectedness of all living and nonliving things. And yet, time and time again I find myself paying no attention to the stories this earth before me is screaming at me. So, naturally, allow me to share some stories preserved in the West Coast

The week of March 21 was one of my favorite weeks here in New Zealand because

  • A. We were going to the West Coast, which has a completely different landscape than Kaikoura.
  • B. I love roadtrips
  • C. WE FINALLY WERE HAVING OUR FIRST SCIENCE CLASS OF THE SEMESTER.

The first day started off with a bang: one of the three vans broke down a few hours into our trip, testing our fearless staff on their ability to think on their toes (they proved worthy, as always). This unfortunate event did allow the other two vans to spend lots of time at Castle Hill, the famous landscape of the battle scene in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The phrase, “FOR NARNIAAAAA” was constantly being carried through the wind while we ran around. I think the staff were hoping we would get all our energy out during this time. Jokes on them, I don’t think that’s ever possible with our group. 🙂

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Fun fact: Castle Hill is a farmer’s backyard…. WHAT?

Our professor, Dr. Port, from Bethel University, used this as an educational opportunity. He explained that these rock formations aren’t only interesting because of their role in Narnia, but more importantly they tell us a story of New Zealand’s past. These limestone rocks are made from sediments being under immense amount of pressure- that which comes from being submerged under water. The information from these rock formations brought up the questions we asked throughout the week:

Is New Zealand really “Moa’s Ark” and how does that affect what we consider a “native” of New Zealand? Should we really be concerned about native species? Are all invasive species harmful? Is conservation protecting the native ecosystems that would have been around before humans came into the picture? Or has human presence completely altered them?

I’m not going to attempt to answer these questions right now. However, I do encourage you to ask your loved one(s) here at CCSP these questions to see what they think!

After a stop in Castle Hill we continued onto Arthur’s Pass to wait for our broken-down-van friends joined us. Our first night and day in Arthur’s Pass included:

  • Being attacked by sandflies (blackflies) every time we stepped outside
  • Curious keas (a NZ parrot) trying to get into garbage cans on the street
  • Fish and chips for supper
  • Glow worms by the river
  • A walk in a mountain beech forest
  • An intro to the native plants of New Zealand
  • Lovely cushion plants in the alpine zones
  • Typical west coast weather (drizzling, cold, windy)
  • Noting the stories of alpine plants: highly adapted to these elements and poor soils

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First class session in the alpine environment at Arthur’s Pass.

Our next stop was Bruce Bay on the west coast. I was questioning the weather because when we arrived it was sunny and warm- not what we had been told to prepare for. The Makaawhio Marae was definitely a welcoming and refreshing place to stay for the first part of our trip. Our hosts, Jeff and Marie, told us stories of their people and their land. These stories are preserved with every detail on the walls and ceiling of the wharenui (Maori meeting house).

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One story the west coast is known for revolves around a type of stone. Special stones, pounamu, as Maori call it. This stone is “grown” in the mountains of the west coast: “Te Wahipounamu” the place of greenstone. Jeff is involved in this story. He’s a famous pounamu carver, which involves him getting the stones from the mountains and rivers. However, in Maori tradition, they believe the pounamu reveals itself to the seeker: a reminder of our connection with the land. There’s so much more to this story, and I encourage you to look into the traditions deeply rooted in this beautiful stone.

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Our trip to Fox Glacier was unexpectedly moving for me. Dr. Port had told us in advance to make note of the changes in landscape as we drove from the marae to the carpark. In my head I was naming the different trees we had been learning and little background stories of them.

  • Tree ferns: r-selected species. found in recently or commonly disturbed areas. aka: EVERYWHERE along the roadsides.
  • Juvenile lancewoods: have different juvenile and adult forms. juveniles look dead.
  • Kahikatea:  the New Zealand white pine. Tallest tree in the forest. Found in swampy lowlands. My favorite native.

Trust me, the list could go on, but I will get back to the glacier. Signs along the road marked where Fox Glacier reached in certain years. In the 1950’s the carpark was well under the glacier and the trail that lead us to the face of the glacier is always changing due to the receding ice.  As we started our walk to the glacier, I observed my surroundings: steep cliffs called glacial schists, beech forest, small shrubs along the trail, algae on rocks, and grey, murky water rushing from the glacier.

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Class by Fox Glacier.

Soon I found myself standing in front of the story teller itself, and I was brought to tears. I had only seen pictures and documentaries involving glaciers and the stories they hold, so this was an overwhelming experience. I couldn’t help but think about my time on earth compared to the glacier’s time on earth. Obviously, the glacier has and it will remain here longer than I. The very ground I was standing on once was under hundreds of tons of ice. Funny then, that my actions and my lifestyle in the States can affect something so massive and powerful halfway around the world. If I ever return to Fox Glacier, the reality is that the carpark will be moved closer, the trail will continue farther back into the valley, and this glacier will be hardly recognizable from my memory. I was reminded of why my passions lie within science as I stood in awe of our powerful God who is reflected in nature.

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The face of Fox Glacier.

The rest of the week was filled with walking on trails while Dr. Port and our knower-of-plants-TA Lauren pointed out native plants and birds we would need to know for our field exam. All of the non-science majors were gently introduced to the world of ecology: made up of little riddles to remember the differences between tree ferns, hand gestures to distinguish needle types, and lots of frustration along the way.

However, I also noticed how much everyone enjoyed learning the names and features of each plant and bird we came across. Many times I heard phrases along the lines of, “Wait, science is actually fun!” or “I want to be able to do this back home!” I cannot express how much joy it brought me to know the rest of my CCSP family was seeing the world through my eyes: to see God’s creation as complex and beautiful, and to have the desire to take the time to learn details and be able to call a plant by name. Basically, I was pumped because I wasn’t the only one geeking out over plants anymore. I have a hunch that God was doing a little boogie dance too, seeing his children taking delight in his creation.

 

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Each place we visited told a different story of the past. This includes Pancake Rocks, Monroe Beach, Lake Mattheson, the West Coast Wildlife Centre to see Rowi kiwis, Rotariti Gorge, Lewis Pass, and many in between. During this week I realized how much I don’t pay as much attention to these stories as I should. Just like in Christian circles we like to say every person has a story worth telling, I believe that can go beyond humanity and apply to all of creation. Every stone, every bird, every fern, every glacier, and every human has the ability to tell of a great story. One that has been told throughout time. One that brings people to tears. One that celebrates the gift of life. One that shouts praise to the Creator.

I pray that I may have the ears to hear this beautiful story being told all around me.

Will you join?

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Check out the video I made to see more of the beauty found on the West Coast.

— Ashley Maloney

NorthWestern College, Class of 2017