'Poem in the Matukituki Valley' by James K Baxter, 1949
Some few yards from the hut the standing beeches Let fall their dead limbs, overgrown With feathered moss and filigree of bracken. The rotted wood splits clean and hard Close-grained to the driven axe; with sound of water Sibilant falling and high nested birds.
In winter blind with snow; but in full summer The forest blanket sheds its cloudy pollen And cloaks a range in undevouring fire. Remote the land's heart; though the wild scrub cattle Acclimatized, may learn Shreds of her purpose, or the taloned kea.
For those who come as I do, half-aware, Wading the swollen Matukituki waist-high in snow water, And stumbling where the mountains throw their dice Of boulders huge as houses, or the smoking Cataract flings its arrows on our path -
For us the land is matrix and destroyer, Resentful, darkly known By sunset omens, low words heard in branches; Or where the red deer lift their innocent heads Snuffing the wind for danger, And from our footfall's menace bound in terror.
Three emblems of the heart I carry folded As charms against flood water, sliding shale: Pale gentian, lily, and bush orchid. The peaks too have names to suit their whiteness, Stargazer and Moonraker, A sailor's language and a mountaineer's.
And those who sleep in close bags fitfully Besieged by wind in a snowline bivouac - The carrion parrot with red underwing Clangs on the roof by night, and daybreak brings Raincloud on purple ranges, light reflected Stainless from crumbling glacier, dazzling snow,
Do they not, clay in that unearthly furnace, Endure the hermit's peace And mindless ecstasy? Blue-lipped crevasse And smooth rock chimney straddling - a communion With what eludes our net - Leviathan Stirring to ocean birth our inland waters?
Sky's purity; the altar cloth of snow On deathly summits laid; or avalanche That shakes the rough moraine with giant laughter; Snowplume and whirlwind - what are these But His flawed mirror who gave the mountain strength And dwells in holy calm, undying freshness?
Therefore we turn, hiding our souls' dullness From that too blinding glass: turn to the gentle Dark of our human daydream, child and wife, Patience of stone and soil, the lawful city Where man may live, and no wild trespass Of what's eternal shake his grave of time.
Weir, J E. Editor. (1979). Collected Poems: James K Baxter. Wellington: Oxford University Press and Price Milburn. pp 86-87.
Matukituki Valley photographed by Lloyd Homer Courtesy of Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd