On 18 November, a group of community members from all walks of life came together to walk along and rediscover the Waiwaka Stream, as it meanders above and below ground in urban Masterton. We followed it from its first known location, at 38 Cornwall St, through to where it meets the Makoura in Garlands Bush.
Throughout the research and development of this project I have had the privilege of speaking with many people, whom have shared their knowledge of Masterton’s rich environment, history, tikanga, rongoa, flora and fauna – today and then – through the lens of the project.
It’s in these conversations that the work really happens. These are the moments of magic; when we walk together, share our knowledge, our stories, we listen, learn, and go on a discovery together. It is during these conversations that we also really listen, not only to each other, but to nature around us. For this simple reason I wanted to create an opportunity where everyone in the community can take part in this experience, to bring everyone’s magic to the table, to listen together, to share our observations and to visualise the future of our natural urban environment.
Thank you to everyone who attended the walk! A very special thank you goes out to Tony Garstang, Joe Potangaroa, Ra Smith, Garry Foster, Pat Enright, Gareth Winter, Jade Waetford, Tony Silbery and Ian Gunn for sharing your knowledge and continued enthusiasm. A special thank you also to Anna and Kit De Silva and to Jenny and David Borman, UCOL and Wairarapa Village, for letting us explore the Waiwaka Stream in their gardens and premises.
“When we walk together by the river, the space is activated, performed, by our presence, by our walking and talking. It becomes a place, again. It may always have been a place, but it is reborn, imbued by the meeting between a landscape and a person, a story, a shared experience. Our conversations are guided, yet light, they flow naturally, even with people I have never before met. The landscape – the rivers, the streams, the confluences, the trees, the concreted footpath or intersection that hide the streams, even – all of a sudden inform our relationship to the landscape around us and beneath our feet, but also the relationship to each other.”
Head to Open Air Life’s “HQ” at Te Patukituki o Wairarapa at 15 Queen Street to pick up free A3 copies of these maps – until the supplies run out. (Open Air Life “HQ” at Te Pa aims to be open Wednesdays 11am-1pm.) Maps are also expected to be available at the Masterton Library (from Wednesday 24 October onwards) and the Information Centre. Alternatively you can download and print your own copies – please note A3 size is recommended.
Open Air Life / Friluftsliv is a temporary public art project that aims to enable a process of discovery of nature, including notable plants, trees and hidden streams in the Masterton CBD (and connecting to the wider urban Masterton and Wairarapa history and environment). From the seeds, the leaves, the streams and the forest mulch beneath our feet, Open Air Life proposes a message :
Join in the experience of simply being in nature, walking, looking, listening, smelling, sensing and discovering the many “hidden gems” of Masterton’s urban environment – you can find them hidden beneath the concrete surface, sprouting out from the pavement or next to commercial buildings, in parks and in only a stone throw away; historical bush remnants and a precious family of ancient Kahikateas stand tall, proud and wise, in Garlands Bush.
Open Air Life features a range of experiences, people and wisdom, from a Waipoua Riverbank Walk, a CBD Nature Walk, a Land Sit In, Putangitangi workshop, Water Dowsing, Seed Sifting and Community Seed Share, and more, to a treasure trove of discovery of temporary found, collected, pressed, dusted, hung, scented and healing objects and essences, and sculptural interventions displayed in a range of locations and/or in “Nature Trail Boxes” in the CBD. More than anything, it celebrates open air life itself!
Open Air Life presents a set of new visual propositions of how to navigate and appreciate our environment – looking for signs of original bush, streams hidden beneath the concrete. Maps, plant presses and various other resources are available to follow and map and build our knowledge of our urban forests.
Open Air Life invites to viewer to go on a journey of discovering both place and plant at the same time. Location and senses. Beauty and function. Past and present. The seeds, the leaves, the plants, the trees, all rely upon a range of circumstances, including thriving and diverse ecosystems to successfully germinate, grow and be healthy. This in itself is a message of wellness; for healthy ecosystems, healthy waterways, healthy people, healthy communities.
Open Air Life opens together with the Block Party Saturday 20 October. Check out the events on offer and join your community in experiencing nature in an easy, accessible and welcoming way, by listening, with all your senses, to the natural environment in the midst of your urban landscape.
We all have an informed idea about what nature is, where it is. Or, do we? Is a green space in the CBD the same as nature? Or does nature only really exist beyond the borders of the asphalt, somewhere where we have to make a dedicated decision to put on our gumboots, pack our lunch, to travel to by bike, foot, or car, and experience Nature. Most of the time, I tend to lean towards environmental scientist and writer Emma Marris’ definition of nature: “If we define it [nature] as that which is untouched by humans, then we won’t have any left,” (…) Instead, “she urges us to consider a new definition of nature — one that includes not only pristine wilderness but also the untended patches of plants growing in urban spaces.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/emma_marris_nature_is_everywhere_we_just_need_to_learn_to_see_it)
In principle, I am not cheering for weeds above natives. I understand that the rat is a pest. I hate tradescantia in my garden with a vengeance. But I look around me and I see miles after miles of planted “exotic” and “introduced” species. Look no further than the cherished Queen Elisabeth Park, or the many trees planted throughout the CBD. These are beautiful living organisms that add (and have for decades and decades added) value to people’s lives and experience of the CBD. It is not for me to make these decisions, however, I think that by giving them names, by identifying and learning about their qualities, about when and why they were planted, whether they provide food, medicine, or simply shelter and beauty – and learning from them – we can learn to better take care of the plants that add value to our environment. We can learn to make better decisions. And we can find that nature is and can be all around us.
I cannot help but be struck by the descriptive poetry of these names; in just few words put together, they tell a story about the place, the environment, what it looked like, what was present, or how it behaved. They often offer a genuine observation of nature, describing what the river or the mountain “does”, making nature the subject, the “doer”, rather than a person. I have also noticed that in particular the rivers in the Wairarapa area mostly bear Maori names, while streets and parks have a tendency to carry English-sounding names. This seems to me to be an expression, not of right and wrong, but of different geographical origins, circumstances and philosophies; resulting in two very different value systems applied to nature and how they – we – organise a way of living, around it.
The Maori who at the time of creating these names, lived predominantly in close harmony with nature; the rivers were their highways, the forest was their garden. The vast area to the south east, north east and north west of Masterton was referred to as Te Tapere nui o Whatonga; the great Domain or the Great Food Basket. The entire system of interrelated living beings, ecosystems, forces of nature, was the vast, shared and much treasured, much revered, garden for the Maori, a place of learning, of healing and of feeding their people.
The settlers came from countries where the powers at be, were promising gold and riches if they travelled to New Zealand, and probably many would have endured challenging economical, social and political circumstances in the countries where they migrated from, hence more often than not the settlers did not live in such an harmonious relationship with nature. Instead they viewed “wild nature” as unused, owned by no-one, to no-one’s benefit, and so they sought to conquer, tame, survey, divide, and manage nature. They tended to apply names to these places to put an order to the system that they were creating, perhaps also as testaments to achievements. Areas such as Queen Elizabeth Park, and 70 Mile Bush (another name for the same area as referred to by Maori as Te Tapere nui o Whatonga) are expressions of this philosophy.
Streets then were the results of a clearing of the woods and the wetlands, redirecting the rivers and streams, creating an orderly access system to new parcels of land, and became vehicles for promoting these developments. In “North of the Waingawa, on p 73, Ian F. Grant recounts how a committee of three councillors; Beetham, Harris and Welch, met in 1904 to decide the names of roads built between Masterton County and Masterton Borough. “Five classes (of names) were chosen – local residents, noted military commanders, native trees, numbers and well-known public entertainers.”
I was glad to see that streets trees were included as a category; though whether they represented the belts of forest that had existed in earlier days, or the grandeur of individual trees; perhaps even the sentimental value and relationship many people have to trees, I do not know. I wonder too, if the inclusion of trees – not flowers, birds, vegetables – were a reference to the economic value they represented, and a lack of awareness that the vast forest that was so recklessly and continually cut down to make way for roads, farms, house building, sellable and arable land, was in fact a limited resource, and one that housed thousands upon thousands of invaluable ecosystems for birds, insects, plants, epiphytes, berries, and so much more.
I am interested in the earlier notion of the garden. This is a notion that is useful yet respectful to what nature already has on offer. It is a notion similar to the common; a shared resource equally belonging to everyone, existing for the benefit of everyone, being looked after by everyone. It is not a notion that seeks to constantly implicate change, to create “perfection”, a more cost effective higher yielding crop, or achieve a “higher form of natural beauty”. Indeed, it is not like our private gardens; which is an expression of individual ownership, and where we constantly seek to plant what we see as the better plant, the most useful plant, the most beautiful rose, the most exotic orchid, the most shade-producing tree, the most private hedge. (I am often guilty of this myself, though I have to admit, equally often unsuccessful at tending to my vegetables as I have not made the effort to understand their needs, such as shelter.) And if we look at this in a contemporary scenario, as Emma Marris points out, this notion of the garden is not even the place where we seek to eradicate the weeds, all the introduced species, and replant only natives. As this is simply not possible anymore.
So what is it?
When reading the Early History of the Wairarapa, by Charles Bannister, I came across a small chapter on Masterton’s original name: “Masterton’s original Maori name was Whaka-ori-ori , which means singing a lullaby and rocking a baby to sleep in one’s arms.” It continues: “I (Charles Bannister, the author) was told by an old Maori wahine that there were so many tuis and bellbirds singing together at the edge of the bush that their melodious song lulled the children to sleep (Nga tamariki ki te moe), hence the name Whaka-ori-ori.”
This, to me, is a clue. The garden [the bush, the water nearby] is here, in a simple observation, a place that provides both spiritual, intellectual and physical nourishment. The question is, how can this be achieved, even if only in the smallest of proportions, today, through my project? Where does this garden exist, when today so much of this garden has been changed, so much of it is gone, cut down, hidden underneath concrete, forgotten about as names and places that existed hundreds of years ago, are no longer on our maps, are rarely present in our everyday language, are only carried like precious hidden gemstones in the memories of only a few people.
Can we, if we start to listen to what the garden is telling us, come to understand it better, and provide it with what it needs, rather than what we need?
A Land Sit In was borne from conversations with my friend Odette Rowe. Odette is a Kundalini, perinatal and children’s yoga teacher and a qualified homeopath. Keenly aware of the benefits of nature and the effect & relevance of its cycles upon our lives, I had approached Odette to make a herbal remedy to nature – a remedy not for human beings, but a remedy for nature. The result was a wonderful batch of Spring Equinox Land Essence produced at the confluence of two streams, the Waiwaka and the Makoura, in Garlands Bush, and blessed by an eel at dawn. When I poured the Land Essence into the Waiwaka Stream some weeks later, a beautiful large eel came to greet me.
A Land Sit In, would be a rare opportunity to spend time in nature on nature’s terms, to shift our mindset from taking to giving and to foster a dialogue. More often than not, the Land is often seen as a resource for humans to use – whether this is for food, medicine, recreation or to build our home. But how often do we just sit and listen to the land and our surroundings?
I brought my kids to Land Sit In – it was partly not by choice. My partner had to work that day, we had just moved back into our house after a flooring renovation, and I thought perhaps it would be hard to “keep them happy”, but had not had the time or opportunity to set up playdates. They were coming. It was one of the best things we have ever done together. It was not a warm sunny day, it had been raining, there was a sharp breeze, yet the the drop in temperature as we headed into the reserve under the canopy of tall shady trees, felt comforting, the children loved every minute of the event, from doing a recce of the bush, trying (without luck) to entice the eels to eat some of our ham, to choosing a site off the path where we’d sit, to listen, smell, sense, to contributing their gifts from our own garden and walks, to looking for seeds, leaves, bark, branches, and so on, and bringing them back to include into the land essence, drawing the forest elements and listening, with all their senses. There was pure contentment, all around.
It was truly a children’s Land Essence that we created; full of excitement, hope, enthusiasm, awe of textures, smells, captivated by a million green treasures.
At the end we gathered up our essence to spread the healing energy from the vibrant healthy Garlands Bush to deprived, lonely streets and parks. (We headed to the Town Square, where we spread it in the water fountain and around.)
Thank you Odette for leading Land Sit In, and providing us with questions and cues to truly listen, discover and experience the natural environment around us!
Throughout this project, from research through to conception, I have been fortunate to meet and speak to many wonderful people. Time and time again I have felt that the work exposes itself through these conversations. When we walk together by the river, the space is activated, performed, by our presence, by our walking and talking. It becomes a place, again. It may always have been a place, but it is reborn, imbued by the meeting between a landscape and a person, a story, a shared experience. Our conversations are guided, yet light, they flow naturally, even with people I have never before met. The landscape – the rivers, the streams, the confluences, the trees, the concreted footpath or intersection that hide the streams, even – all of a sudden inform our relationship to the landscape around us and beneath our feet, but also the relationship to each other.
The most pertinent way I can offer a glimpse into these conversations, the wealth of knowledge that only one or two people have, to the community, is by inviting the community to come for a walk with us. I have done this through a series of Open Air Life events, taking the form of walks, workshops, conversations, that we do together.
In this instance, I invited Hella Coenen, to show us how to dowse for water, along the route that I believe was the route of the Mangaakuta Stream, that crossed the town from around Albert St through the Queen/Lincoln/Church intersection and carried on East. Two groups of people came along on Sunday 4 November. Hella was introduced to dowsing as a way of identifying safe places to rest and sleep. She has been dowsing for 30 years now. We started the class by a brief introduction to dowsing, then we shared our own reasons for being there. We practised inside the space at Te Patukituki for a few minutes, along a line that Hella had identified was a line of water. Then we headed out onto Queen St, crossing Park St, and on the way came across many locations where our dowsing rods indicated strongly. We arrived at Church & Queen intersection, and dowsed for signs of the Mangaakuta Stream by an old struggling plantain tree, before we crossed the main street, heading North West. When the dowsing rods presented a strong indication of water below, we were guided directly into the shop premises of Beds4U, who were so gracious to let us practice our dowsing, finding a path that curved past beds and turning West again to Lincoln St. We followed the underwater stream further, behind a small green area, past Burger King, across Chapel St and into McDonald’s car park, where finally we were led to a cluster of two trees, split into many different directions, another sign indicating strong presence of water below.
Hella Coenen has been dowsing for over 30 years, she has specialized in identifying geopathic stress areas in and around homes and work places. Thank you Hella!
For centuries we have cut down and destroyed forests for the purposes of commercial gain, commodity, beauty, design, for surveying, access, for land management and urban development, and so on.
We rarely stop to consider the benefits of the forest, of each individual tree – the shade they provide, the air they cool and clean and produce for us to breathe, the ecosystems and food chains they support, the dust and pollen they settle to the ground, the noises they muffle, the surface water run off they help control, the sheer beauty of them – and much more. And do we ever stop to consider the possibility that trees live in a social environment, a community, not so unlike the one that we aspire to have.
Our lives are set among amazing wooden objects and structures. Made well, these objects and structures often have true beauty, and provide real function, to human beings. They take on a purpose, made and seen only through our eyes – for our sole benefit, we think.
Last year, after much searching, I found a beautiful ornate table. Exploring the gentle shifts of value and perception, and having for some time been wanting to work with moss, I covered it in green lush mosses that I rescued from a local facility that was removing its lovely soft moss clad grounds to make way for gnarly and firm concrete.
I fed the moss and table with good soil, water, nutrients and love, and brought it inside. It became the centre piece, an invitation to enter, a welcome sign, to the small working space for the CBD Nature Trail research at Te Patukituki. It was fortunate to be taken under the wings of Te Patukituki, so that it could continue to thrive for some months in their space. However, after some time I found, not surprisingly, that it was struggling. The lack of humidity, fresh air, shade, fresh rain & wind, insects, and so on, was preventing it from harbouring a nurturing eco system.
Strangely, only through the process of studying the struggling table of moss, I realised that not only the moss, but also the wooden table itself, would in a sense, benefit from being returned to the outside. Supporting layers of soft moss, rather than cups, plates, objects, and books, the table had gained another purpose all together; that of supporting another eco system. Exactly like a living tree would do. I could not help but wonder, if it perhaps also was missing a companion, a community of trees, of birds, grass, water and insects.
It took some work, some time, some more plants, some experimentation, and it even took some staples.
But I returned it to the woods. I hope the birds and the insects and the other trees will enjoy it. I hope the humans will leave it alone. Study it perhaps, sit next to it, yes, stroke it, perhaps, but leave it be.
In Garlands Bush, the Makoura and the Waiwaka Streams meet. A confluence, a muriwai. These two streams have meandered through the town, below concrete, below buildings from the east to the west. As you walk through Garlands Bush, heading south west, along the path of the Makoura, past the confluence, past the small but ancient and wise family of kahikatea, we come to a dried up stream bed. For a whole year now, I have visited this small piece of beautiful bush, only a stone throw from the centre of town. I have wondered when will this stream bed flood and fill, but it has not held any water ever since I started visiting the site. It would have been a significant stream at some stage – I can tell from the two bridges on either side of it. The ground seems to have a fine soft pasty loam of dirt beneath, perhaps pointing to it being an ephemeral stream that would be rise from large rain fall and carry sand and soil through in its path.
I wonder, what is this stream, what is it’s name, where does it come from, and why does it not seem to flow anymore?
The Reach of a Stream traces the curves of the once stream, from bridge to bridge, with the glowing colour of ground turmeric. It brings new life, not so much to the stream itself, but to the knowledge that there was a stream here once.
It strangely reminds me of a road marking – “the river was the highway, the forest was the garden” – and it sets the faded, grey, muddy path of fallen leaves, mulch and rubbish alight in a gentle fire of gold, making us notice what is really there.
Many many people have helped me on my journey to develop Open Air Life – from providing advise and insight, to design & handiwork, to looking after children…and much more. The list is long & I only hope I have not forgot anyone…!!!
Aaron Bacher, Adele & Dan Richardson, Alan Flynn, Anna Baird, Anna Brown, Anna Burrows, Anneke Wolterbeek, Bailey Peterson, Chris Adams, Chris Miller, Cheryl Gallaway, Dane, Florian & Felix, Gareth Winter, Garry Foster, Hal Jones, Helen Dew, Hella Coenen, Heather Jones, Horipo Rimene, Ian Gunn, Jade Waetford & Wayne Pitau, John Bush & the Henley Mens Shed, John Hart, Joseph Potangaroa, Kirsten Browne, Leo Klafke & Rebekah Mehrtens, Lucy Cooper, Odette Rowe, Madeleine Slavick, Mark Amery, Martine Bijker, Nina Boyd, Patrick Enright, Patsy & Geoff Wooles, Rawiri Smith, Robyn Ramsden, Russell Kawana, Sam Ludden & Janine Ogg, Saali & Jennie Marks, Sophie Jerram, Tony Garstang, Tony Silbery, Tamara, Friendly staff at Moore Wilsons, Lady at Landsdowne nursery… huge thanks also to teachers and students: Nicki Bramwell-Cooke and her students at Opaki School, Barbara Williams and her students at St Patrick’s School, and Sarah Chapman and her students at St Matthews Collegiate for collecting, pressing and helping identify trees in urban Masterton!
Finally, I would also like to thank Tiffany Daubitz, Sandy Green and the staff at Masterton District Library for hosting the Pop Up Community Seedbank (Open Air Life Nature Trail Station No. 2) from January 2019 onwards!