Leaving the land

by | Jan 21, 2021 | Seasons Newsletter | 24 comments

 

 

The land was on a grazed hillside, that was struggling to regenerate. When we first saw the bach, a coarse bramble arched across the doorway, and the interior smelt of dead ants. From the deck we saw tall bracken that had sprouted from the bare earth.

 

Love and regeneration

 

We fell in love with the place instantly, and wanted to care for it. Once it was ours, the first thing we did was to bring in seedlings from a native plant nursery. We were newly married students, our only vehicle a Lambretta motorscooter, but the footboard was large enough to hold four potted trees at a time.

We planted houhere/lacebark, tōtara, five finger, rimu, kauri, and karaka. Now, 53 years later, the change is remarkable. A tōtara rises high into the sky, karaka and houhere have flowered, berried, and spread many progeny. Birds have brought in seeds from further afield and mature bush covers the land.

 

 

And now

After we divorced 50 years ago, I became sole caretaker of the land.

And now, in January 2021, I have been spending my last summer here.

 

 

 

Leaving

Mostly I am reconciled to selling. It is a wise choice for many reasons. But after my last holiday I have felt a deep wrench from leaving the land itself.

I greet these beloved trees when I arrive and say goodbye when I leave. The kawakawa gives me its medicine, the karaka holds me as I clasp its trunk, and the tōtara, once a 15 cm seedling, lifts me into the immensity of its mighty presence as I marvel at how it could have grown such a tiny beginning.

 

 

So much learning

 

“There will be plenty of other places where you can be in nature,“ says my son.

“Yes, but not with this depth of connection,“ I say.

For over 50 years I have studied the meaning of indigenous awareness —multidimensional sensory knowing — through reading the wind, learning the patterns of the kereru who arrive at dusk to feast on kawakawa and in the lean season on houhere leaves. Knowing the seasons that bring the trill of the riroriro, the call of the kōtare. Learning to discern an alarm call from the tūī “all is well“ song, seeing the kānuka through their life cycle of growing so tall that they block the sea view, and then beginning to die and fall so the blue of the sea and the bloom of the pōhutukawa are visible once more. Being here through rains and storms, fierce blasts that bring down trees, and through times of drought and calm.

 

 

The pain of exile

 

In feeling the wrench, I remember the pain of exile for refugees and all those whose ancestors have been deeply rooted in one place over centuries, and in particular, Māori who have lost their ancestral home. It’s a mutual pain —the land grieves the loss of its kaitiaki just as the tangata whenua grieve the loss of the land,

 

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From the bach balcony I look down over the treetops to the site of the last Māori village before the iwi, Te Kawerau ā Maki, were gradually squeezed out of the area through population decline following colonisation, Crown land purchases that ignored mana whenua (tribal authority over land), the consequences of economic pressures, and the Native Land Act that permitted individualisation of land titles.

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Even as I grieve my own loss, I am aware of how much more extensive is the grief of those who hold mana whenua, whose land is layered with human presence and ancestry over hundreds of years and whose loss is the result of unwelcome interventions from outside.

[The old picture below shows the last village of Te Kawerau ā Maki. Behind it is the hillside where 3 baches, including mine, were built in the 1950s. The large inland dune that leads to Lake Wainamu appears on the right].

 

 

Dreams lost and found

 

For my son and for the granddaughters whose placentas are buried here, that layering had begun. My dream was that the bach would be passed on through the family line, but this is not to be. My sojourn is over.

Suffering has value. It flings open a gateway to compassion. I have deepened my understanding of the suffering of tāngata whenua who have been alienated from their ancestral land. My heart is open and glad to know that land has been gifted to Te Kawerau ā Maki to return and build a marae not far from that last village and begin the long journey of restoring what was lost.

 

 

A new dream

 

This morning I dreamed:

A stately woman is standing on a gravel pathway on the bach land, reciting a poem, very slowly.

She stops. It is incomplete.

I am listening very attentively.

 

 

Blessings to you all, in your loves and in your losses,

Juliet

 

This post is an excerpt from my Seasons Newsletter. To receive the Seasons Newsletter, you may sign up on the home page of this website and receive a free audio meditation.

 

My new book Sun, Moon, and Stars is going out to many welcoming homes. Thank you for your purchases, and do open up the first seasonal chapter on First Fruits (at February 2), all ready to begin your adventure through the seasons! If you don’t already have one, you may order your copy here.

24 Comments

  1. Beth

    A bittersweet read. Thank you for honouring your own journey, and that of the land itself through your story. It is wonderful to hear that Te Kawerau ā Maki will be able to return to this area and grow their mana there. I am sad to hear that you will be moving on from your precious house and property, and moving on from such a wonderful experience of deep elemental connection, but I admire the legacy you leave behind for your children, and all those that have gained from your nature-based wisdom and experience. Blessed be.

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you so much Beth, I appreciate your kind words.

      Reply
  2. Cecily Sheehy

    Dearest Juliet,
    Beth has expressed so beautifully what I would like to say to you, Juliet.

    There are tears in my eyes at the profound expression of your life and journey. I am quite speechless but full of feeling as I take in what you have written.
    Thank you so much Juliet, for all you have shared with us, and for this final beautiful kind of eulogy for the living green plant ‘children’ you have established in these past 50 years.

    Wherever you are going, I wish you happiness, and a soul full of the fruits of your life’s work, and being.
    All my love, and thankfulness for you, and for your life.
    Cecily

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Now it’s my time to feel tears as I receive so many beautiful responses! I like the phrase ‘living green plant children’ — that’s exactly how it feels. Thank you Cecily, your words are much appreciated.

      Reply
  3. minnie biggs

    sad for you dear Juliet, and now forward, with love and gratitude

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you dear Minnie.

      Reply
  4. Verity Thom

    Such grace in loss, something I have benefitted from learning from you. Hoping you have much support and sources of comfort as you make this transition. Your great pain in leaving pays testament to your great love of this place.

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you for your beautiful words, Verity. The messages I am receiving are a source of great comfort.

      Reply
  5. Kathryn Rountree

    Dear Juliet
    I feel your grief and love at this huge transition… it’s so wonderful to see how the trees you planted have grown and matured in beauty and strength. Thinking about the wrench of leaving the land you love so much somehow reminds me of my grief when my son left home, all mature and grown up, but still precious-beyond-words. Those fine trees will flourish and endure and your love will always be part of them. Arohanui, dearest Juliet.

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Dear Kathryn, thank you so much for your compassionate and encouraging words, and for sharing that poignant grief of your son leaving home. These are such big life transitions and your understanding is a comfort.

      Reply
  6. Trish Turner

    Thank you Juliet for sharing the beauty love and pain of your journey of 50years.. You will take with you your rich memories leaving behind a legacey of dedication and love of the land.. Wishing you much love as you jojrney on.

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you so much Trish; there are many rich memories to take with me.

      Reply
  7. Kim Jesney

    Dear Juliet, thank you for your poignant words, I feel the grief and tears of your loss, and for those who have lost their land. Having read your beautiful book A Bach for All Seasons I know how much this place means to you.

    I hope you have the opportunity to revisit the bach, to be amongst your beloved trees again.
    Sending you much aroha and strength during this transition.
    Kia kaha
    Kim xxx

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you dear Kim for your words of understanding and encouragment. Yes, you will know the full story from reading A Bach for All Seasons.

      Reply
  8. Penny

    Oh Juliet I am sad for you…I’m also sad for me because as you leave your lovely land behind, so too have my parents left the land where my wife and I got married/handfasted four years ago. We had hoped they would be there much longer than they were, and that if they couldn’t be, we’d be able to buy the land ourselves. It was not to be. On the day before our wedding anniversary (we got married at the Summer Solstice) my wife and I retraced our steps to the beautiful circle where we got married, thanked the spirits and elementals for their blessings and asked them to take care of the land for us. We then lay down in the middle of the circle and cried for ourselves.
    Then we picked ourselves up, took a little film of the surroundings, then left knowing we wouldn’t return as we’d done every year since getting married there, the moving trucks coming the next day on our actual anniversary.
    Parting is a sorrow but luckily memory remains doesn’t it? Photographs too. And it is true, we can find a bit of nature for us when we choose to look. Brightest Blessings Juliet and thank you for all your lovely words reminding us that we’re not alone xxx

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you so much Penny, for your blessings and for sharing your own sad story of being parted from the land where you got married. Ritual is so necessary as such times, so It’s great that you could farewell the land so beautifully.

      Reply
  9. Lee Kinley

    Thank you Juliet. That was an eloquent farewell, and forceful, for the land will remember. My hope is that the caretakers who follow you will continue honour the history and the wairua of the land.
    Kia kaha
    Lee

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Lee for your strong words. That is my hope too.

      Reply
  10. Jennifer McKinnon

    Dear Juliet, thank you for your Beautiful story. I live in my home called Rangimarie. When I arrived here there were native trees growing here and since then lots more have just popped out of the ground. At the beginning of last year there were plans for me to sell my home and move to a Retirement village. It didn’t work out. I was relieved that I could stay in my own home. Rangimarie means peaceful and this is the most peaceful home. I have ever lived in surrounded by my native bush and my Kererus who come to visit me every day for a drink. I feel very lucky and blessed to still be here after living here for 24 years it would have been a lot of grief especially leaving my Kererus. I have enjoyed your stories Juliet and the photos of your bach and your native bush that you have grown yourself. I wish you well, Love, blessings and respect. Jenny

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Jenny, and how lovely that you can still live amongst the trees and the visiting kereru.

      Reply
  11. TIlda Bostwick

    Thank you for sharing your jouney and your lovely writing Juliet, I spent a wild weathered weekend in your bach with my daughter nearly 20 years ago, I will not forget that beautiful place .
    cheers, Tilda

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Oh thank you Tilda; it’s so nice to be reminded about who has stayed in my bach in the past.

      Reply
  12. Ketana

    Dear Juliet
    I came on this beautiful post via a circuitous route
    (Beginning with seeing this beautiful place listed for sale a few days ago)
    I wept just reading your “Bach notes” re the listing and wept copiously reading this here as well. I too connected first with Te Henga 54 years ago all childhood summers spent in our family Bach near the Bethell family homestead sadly passed to other “owners” many years back.
    I feel as though all the twists and turns of life ever since those days have been somehow about “trying to return” to Te Henga my heart home.
    Thank you SO much for what you have shared here it touches me SO deeply

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Ketana, I feel so moved reading your comment — such a parallel path in many ways. Te Henga certainly has a way of capturing the heart. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      Reply

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