As the rain fell steadily, soaking the earth, I watched the season tilt towards winter and thought of Irihapeti.
Twenty years earlier, we sat in her Wellington garden, talking of grief and how it so often accompanies the midlife crossing.
She was sharing her story for my book Growing into Wisdom. The rain was falling steadily, just as it is while I write now.
Irihapeti paused. She wondered aloud what sound the plants might be making as they soaked up the long-overdue moisture. We sat silently, listening, before resuming our conversation.
Irihapeti’s ancestors had trod the very land where she now had her home. The earth felt their footprints. The site of her garden was once part of the tribal birding area. The same earth opened to receive her breast, that was buried after surgery during a gathering with friends.
Why would her words from two decades ago be coming through so strongly now, in a different time and place? Who can fathom the mystery of the voices that reach us across time? — these gems and threads that have lain so long in hidden pockets, only to be discovered when your hand chances to hover over some forgotten place, to pull out threads and coloured handkerchiefs like magician’s silk?
Remembering her words gives me a measure of time, and a measure of growth. Twenty years ago they carried an edge of a new idea. Listening to the sound of the plants drinking up rain wasn’t something I had thought of before. I liked the sound of it. I was intrigued. Yet, despite this excitement, on a subtle level, I felt a sense of separation.
Going further, claiming more
While my connection with nature was strong, it didn’t go quite so far. I ascribed the experience of listening to plants to something only Māori knew about.
And yet in subsequent decades I too have gained access to the inner voice of plants, water, air and earth. It began with remembering the many hours I spent as a child sitting on a rock beside the Waionganaiti river that flowed down from Mt Taranaki. I was forgetting how tuned in I was to its many voices: the ripples, the pause, the indrawn breath, the rush of a new flow and the stony rattle that followed the rush.
By failing to embrace my own experience, I was missing a meeting point between Irihapeti and myself, a meeting point that would have happened had I remembered and shared my river experience, feeling it as part of me.
Eventually, by claiming that intuitive connection with nature, I was able to develop it further, until it now feels completely natural to talk to trees, sense into their rising or falling sap, and ask plants for permission to take a leaf.
You can do this too
In my recent Sacred Earth course, I saw how others can learn this. One person said, ‘I feel I have awakened to a spontaneous relationship where my inner world and my outer world have melded as one. Nature and I are one.’
And another ‘I have sensed that a beautiful Ti Kouka at our gate is a guardian and protects our home. Previously I was not aware of guardians in nature, as such.’
Another spoke of ‘feeling a deep connection to the plants as ancestors when I held a kawakawa leaf in my hand and felt its veins as my veins.’
When the earth needs to drink
During the months of drought in Auckland, Northland and other parts of the country, the fine weather at first seemed a benevolent gift. It helped draw people out to cycle and walk during the Lockdown.
But there came a point where the earth was suffering from too much dryness. I felt it, and conserved water. I longed for rain on behalf of the earth, even as I enjoyed the sunny days for myself.
If the earth suffers, we suffer.
Science has now alerted us to a hard truth: the link between our degradation of the earth and the emergence of lethal viruses.
We are not separate.
The earth is our body.
When we degrade the earth, our immune system suffers and pathogens thrive.
My body, the earth, is drinking deeply.
And so I welcome the rain. I give thanks.
What I know is: that the closer we move towards the indigenous wisdom that lies within the ancestry of us all, and is kept alive by native cultures today, the sooner we will embrace a pathway to healing. For Irihapeti, that ancestry was alive and accessible; for many Pākehā, it takes some unearthing to find the roots. But it can be done.
I feel this as an urgent task. Do you?
I give thanks to the rain, and what it brought with it today.
I would welcome your thoughts.
You may read Irihapeti’s story in Growing into Wisdom, Chapter 7.