The Upper Manuherikia Valley
by Brian Turner
(published in the New Zealand Listener, 2014)
When there’s only a hint of a breeze and the sun’s bright, and the day promises
to be warm, I think of making for the upper Manuherikia River, the valley
between bulky Mt St Bathans and the pleated symmetry of the Hawkdun Range.
In 30 minutes I can be there.
To me the burly hills and mountains that I live near are ever-interesting, everchanging
throughout the seasons. In the mornings they are fresh and wonderful
and in the evenings mesmeric and consoling. I’m often mindful of Lawrence
Durrell’s feeling that mountains watched us and at the same time asked if we
were watching ourselves in them. For I see the world around us, the hills, rivers
and streams, and the forests and oceans for that matter – what is often termed
the ‘natural world’ – as a community to which I belong. I do not think of nature as
a suite of ‘resources, or ‘commodities’, whose principal role is to provide for us
materially. I see the whole as an entity that we are morally bound to nurture,
respect, and care for.
The Upper Manuherikia above the lake formed by the Falls Dam is an airy and,
on fine days especially, liberating place. I feel calmer there.
I go there to wander and fish, or simply sit and look at the tawny and pale gold
grasses that clothe the mountains, and at the restful blues of the scree-slopes
reaching for the sky. The river’s cheeky, burbles and bounces. It gleams and
occasionally froths, braids, merges again, then whips back and forth. When
running high it undercuts banks. Mostly it is cool and clean and runs swiftly
over yellow, white, grey and, here and there, dark stones.
The river’s songs quell anxiety, make me happy. I sing along with it and
remember when, in the 1950s, on Sundays, and at holiday times, our family
began to visit the rivers and lakes of the south. We picnicked and fished, camped
in a caravan or tent, ate sandwiches with lettuce, radishes, boiled eggs, tomatoes
and cheese. We boiled water in a Thermette, drank tea or orange cordial. Dad had
a bottle of beer. We drove home in the early evening singing songs from the stage
Today, consideration is being given to raising the Falls Dam by as much as 27
metres, no doubt as part of a desire to ‘grow the economy’. That would flood
much of the upper valley – death to a major part of what remains of the river
there. All this points to the fact that, once again, not only do we need to more
precisely define what we mean by ‘growth’ and ‘progress’, we have to ask, Are
there no limits?
It has been said that we don’t inherit our place from those who preceded us, we
borrow it from all that follow. Yes, and remember, Nature bats last.