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Tane Mahuta

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

As we drove north from Auckland into Maori country, Victoria asked me if I’d like to visit Tane Mahuta, the 2000+ year old kauri tree that is protected in the bush along our route. I ask about the kauris. She points to several along the way, tall absolutely straight light gray trunks rising here and there on either side of the road. She tells me from Captain Cook onward, the kauris were cut down to make masts for the tall ships that sailed the seas. Tane Mahuta has been protected; others are hidden in the bush.

I wonder, “Is Tane Mahuta big enough that the three of us”—Victoria’s teenage daughter, Charlotte, sits in the back seat—“can circle it with our arms?”

“I don’t know, “ she says. “Maybe not.”

We arrive at the parking lot, clean our shoes in the prescribed manner, begin our walk on the boardwalk through the bush that protects Tane Mahuta’s roots from visitors. I still chat a bit; then quiet takes me over. We round a bend and there is Tane Mahuta. I burst into tears. And don’t stop crying. A Maori gentleman recites a poem about the tree in Maori to a small group of visitors. I keep crying. We move to a more remote viewing spot. I keep crying. Finally, we walk back to the car and go on our way to spend several days with friends.

On the way back, Victoria again asks if I’d like to visit Tane Mahuta. Of course. Again, I burst into tears on seeing the magnificent tree. It is protected by a guard rail so I can look but not approach. It is enough. A young Maori woman sings to the tree while visitors look on. Then she says that every Maori child knows this poem: “I am only a tiny seed, but one day I will be great.” Like the kauri tree, the child will grow in strength and beauty.

Why the tears? I ask myself. Tane Mahuta means “lord of the forest.” The tree has been standing since the time Jesus walked on the Earth. It welcomes me and thousands of visitors through the years. It has been watched over by the Maori people who are also its ambassadors.

What touches me? The steadfastness of the tree and of its caregivers. It stands. Reaching down into the earth, rising to the sky, it stands. Like any living being that has been around for a long time, it has scars, it’s easy to see that it has had a rich life. I think that makes it wise. I trust that is so.The Year of the Tree

About four years ago I suddenly found myself paying attention to trees. I’ve always loved them. I have been a tree-hugger since childhood, but this is different. I begin to feel a tree, to feel that we are siblings or at least, members of the same tribe.

I heard that when the birds begin to sing their spring nesting songs, the trees know that is the time for their leaves to unfurl. Millions of buds burst forth with new life. I long to know my place in Nature like that.

I began to think: we humans are in a symbiotic relationship with the trees. We breathe in the air and use the oxygen while releasing the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere for them. They do the opposite: breathe in the air and return the oxygen for us to use. Why I never thought of this before is beyond me, but I didn’t. We’re in a dance with the trees as are all the other oxygen using creatures on the planet.

Next I thought that if that’s the case what an intimate relationship we have with each other. Breath is our most essential need. We can do without food, without water for some days, but without breath we quickly die. We know the rainforest is being decimated. Who would mindlessly destroy the brother and sister who fulfill our most essential need?

Then I thought of all of us who wish for the grace to support our beleaguered planet as it heals from the travesty we commit on it everyday. I believe the trees support that. We are all part of the same tribe, the trees, we humans, and, of course the deer, the bears, the foxes, the birds . . . I feel less alone with the task of returning to the light and love which, I believe, alone can heal us and our home. I send blessings to this tree, now that tree, now all the tree families. I say thank you.

The way we look at life in the West is to assume that human beings are the pinnacle of creation, that animals and plants and rocks are lesser evolved—if at all. The people of Burkina Faso in West Africa see the pyramid of evolution completely the opposite. The quieter something is, the more evolved it is. Then animals are more evolved than humans; trees and plants more evolved yet. I naturally extrapolated from that that rocks and the most evolved of all. I like shaking my beliefs up and seeing things from a new perspective. Enter: The Year of the Tree.

So it became for me the Year of the Tree. When the next year came around I wondered what it would be the year of. Ah, another Year of the Tree, and then the next year? Another. Now I do look at trees differently from the way I saw them in the past. I do see them as steadfast in the journey toward faithfulness and truth. They stand. May I stand.

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Thanks for writing about trees. Sometimes I hear and feel them speak to me. Wise, quite, patient, strong, old enough to see from centuries long perspectives.

There is a song that my daughters learned at a Quaker school about being various trees, how their roots go down, down into the ground... So, simple, but profound, compelling, comforting.

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