Interesting People

 (north island, New Zealand)
We have met some thoroughly interesting people over the last week of our journey and I thought I would write home about them so that you can ‘meet them’ too.
My camera keeps vanishing into the belly of our bus each day, along with the luggage, so I find myself without it all the time, and have no photos of these people and places.   But they will be all found on google, so you can look them up if you are interested.
The Sculptor
We stopped at the factory studio of a famous wood sculptor called Kerry Strongman.  This is where I bought the Kauri spiral necklace.  I don’t know if he made it personally, or whether one of his assistants did.  For the price, I would be thinking it more likely an assistant.  His pieces go for astronomical prices, and get shipped all over the world.  They are also of astronomical dimensions.  He takes large chunks of tree trunk, and brings them to life into the most extraordinary pieces of sculpted wood art.  They shimmer with life and each one has its own symbolism.  He had a statue in his studio of a beautiful kneeling pregnant ladywould be hard to squeeze inside a house it was so huge, but despite the size, it was full of grace and calm and simplicity and it really felt alive.  I would have loved to have it outside in a beautiful garden area and plant lilies all around it.  His pieces tend to go to museums and art galleries and to people who own huge properties, where sculptures of that size just blend into the surroundings.
He was telling us about his life, and how he travelled the world to discover his ‘self’ and his own belief systems, which have freed up the artist within him, so that he can now look at a piece of tree trunk, and see what spirit or song it carries, and then sculpt around it to bring the picture to life.  He said a watershed moment in his life was traveling to Italy, and going to some of the marble quarry sites, and reading some old texts written by (or about?) Michaelangelo.  He was saying that Michaelangelo had the ability to inspire artisans to look for the spirit within the stone and to carve around it to bring it to life in a visual 3D form.  He says that is now what he does with trees.
Standing there in his factory show room surrounded by huge sculptures and listening to him casually move around them explaining their beauty was certainly a bit reminiscent of standing in the gallery where David is housed, in Florence; except in this case the artist is still alive, and still taking commissions, and still creating.
The Forest Man
The business is called ‘Footprints in the Forest” and runs from Hokianga Harbour.  This man takes you into the Kauri forest.  He tells you so many interesting facts about the Kauri tree, and about the ecosystem of the Kauri forest, and he keeps it simple.  He shows you some medicine plants, some practical plants, and some pest plants.  We all had to scrub and wash the soles of our shoes before going into the forest.
The word Kauri is pronounced more like ‘Cody,’ (than ‘Cowrie’), and the syllables are said quickly.  He told us that ‘r’ is pronounced more like a ‘d’ in Maori language.
He also told us many legends connected with the Kauri tree, and he showed great love and respect for the trees, and for the forest.
I really loved the fact that we had to introduce ourselves to the forest before going in there, pretty much like we did at the Spider Rock canyon, by stating our name and our purpose for entering the forest.  The purpose being, in our particular case, to walk along the forest paths, and learn more about the forest, and to admire its beauty.
Before we approached the really big trees he stopped and addressed the tree from a distance in Maori language, announcing our presence and our purpose, and then he sang to the tree with a very strong voice as we walked towards it.  That was pretty incredible.  I loved it.
He also had lots of humour and played little jokes on us, and made us laugh, and told us some funny things about the forest.
I really recommend his business if you are in these parts.  He has such love for the trees, and such knowledge of them.  Strolling through the forest with him is so educational, he points stuff out casually and you don’t want to miss anything in case he does not repeat it.
The interesting fact about the Kauri is that it throws off its unnecessary branches as it grows.  This is how it gets so tall and straight.  It will always be the biggest tree in the forest, and no matter what the height of the forest canopy, the Kauri will grow until it reaches tall and proud above it.  So the really really tall massive Kauri’s become so tall because they are growing up through a higher forest canopy.
We went to meet the second largest Kauri tree, called “the Father of the Forest”, and then we went to meet Tane Mehuta, the largest Kauri tree, called “the Lord of the Forest”.  He is just too big to photograph.  People were liying side by side on the viewing platform, on their backs with their iphones, trying to get the right angle to fit the whole tree in the picture.  Fact is that unless you see the tree next to the other trees, and in the context of the forest, you really cannot grasp how utterly massive it is.
I hope I get these facts right.  The “Father of the Forest” is about 3000 years old, and the “Lord of the Forest” a bit younger, at 2000 years old.
The Kauri tree of New Zealand is similar in huge-ness to the Redwood trees of California.
The Water Shaman
This man was fascinating.
His early area of study was in geology.  Then he became a lawyer and began to argue against mining the hills in his home area, which are full of silver and gold, back in the day before that became a cool thing to do.  He has always felt that he had to be an ambassador for water.  His arguments against the mining were all relevant to its effect on water, on the streams and rivers and ultimately the ocean.  He was telling us anecdotes from his days turning up in court, against huge multinational companies, trying to convince a Judge why the cleanliness of water should be an important factor in the court’s decision making.
I can imagine he made quite a nuisance of himself, and by his own admission he did.  He described the fear he used to feel, and painted a picture of himself looking ridiculous with his little charts and diagrams trying to explain about water to the court.  He is such a living example of the maxim “feel the fear, and do it anyway” – because he just kept fronting up, despite threats and ridicule, because he knew it was his life’s purpose to be the ambassador of water.
Then he suddenly formed the view that he had no right to be representing water, because he did not yet fully understand water properly.  He decided that to be a true ambassador of water he had to learn about it as much as he could, just as a lawyer representing a human client must understand that client as much as they can.
So off he went, travelling the world, seeking out elders and wisdom keepers from all over, to ask them what they knew of water.
And along the way he learned many things, some of which he shared with us on our visit to his property.
His name is Michael O’Donnell, he is fluent in Maori as well as English – and also Old Irish.  He looks as Irish as they come, and can sing like an Irishman, and play all the instruments (some of which he has made himself).
These days he is a potter, and makes water vessels and other clay items.
He has also had an interesting thing happen.  The Maori elders who know him have started sending their troubled youth his way.  He talks to them about water, about air, about tradition, about the heart.   He says these young boys are so angry and lost and displaced.  He said what he talks to them about is so simple, but it is all that is needed to right the balance, and send them on their way.
I would like to go back and spend time with him.  Robbyne said she spent a whole day with him, studying clay, and listening to all his stories and discoveries from around the world about water.  I could sit there for a number of days, just drinking in all of the information and knowledge that he has to share, and listening to him sing the old Irish songs, and the Maori songs, and looking at all the amazing clay and pottery creations in his little workshop.  Plus he knows alot about the medicine plants.
The Storyteller
Just to be repetitive, this man was fascinating.
I am not sure his background, but he has alot of certificates up in his house, showing academic awards and a PhD, but I do not know in what area of study.  He is now involved in TV shows and documentaries and research.  He looks so COOL, like a wizard who has just stepped out of a storybook, except he is just wearing cargo pants and a collared shirt.  He and his wife live on a beautiful hillside property surrounded by gardens and streams, and with two Kerry Strongman sculptures.
He is a storyteller.
He and his wife welcomed us into their home, provided an evening meal for us, and we sat around on his own patio while he kept us enthralled with story after story.   A true storyteller can make you feel like you are right there, in the story, and that is what he did.
He has spent many years researching stories about the Waitaha, the tribe of people who lived in these lands before the Maori arrived.  They were rumoured to be a peaceful people, of diverse multinational origin, who had gathered together and travelled to NZ about 2000 years ago to escape war and blood shed in their various home countries and with the ideal of creating a community of tolerance and peace.  Which they apparently did.  But according to their own legends they were not the first ones here, there were various peoples and tribes before them.
So that is what he is researching. He has written books and recorded a documentary about this more ancient past of NZ.  In his researches he kept coming across a curious fact, lots of stories about ‘fairy people’ who were here before anyone else.  At that time he said he was writing a regular article for a newspaper (or magazine) and so in his column he started to mention these ‘fairy stories’ he was coming across, and then he said he started getting hundreds and hundreds of letters, all mainly from farmers and hunters, all containing stories about ‘little people’ or ‘fairy people’ that they had come across in remoter parts of NZ.   By his own admission, he is fascinated with the unexplained, but needs to prove it to himself first.
His current fascination is with this little device that he has imported from Europe.  He said it is the result of about 40 years of research by Italian scientists.  He did explain how it worked, but that bit went straight over my head.
Basically, he had it hooked up to a peace lily, and through the machine, the lily was singing to us.
I would never have believed it, except I was there, I saw it, and heard it.  And the song varied, and it was so happy and cheerful sounding.
He said that ever since he got his machine, he has become dedicated to researching it.  He has taken it and hooked it up to nearly every plant and tree in his massive garden, and recorded all the different songs.  He is now going further afield with his little machine, extracting songs from new plants and trees, and showing it to anyone who is interested in looking at it.
I just love how we had a peace lilly sing to us.
His name is Gary Cook, but he kept making me think of 21st century Leonardo da Vinci.  I kept remembering how people must have thought da Vinci was crazy when he drew the first sketch of a flying machine.  Now they are a fact of life.
We are now in Lake Taupo area.
We spent the late afternoon yesterday in the mineral springs here.
Guess who went down the waterslide and nearly got stuck inside it (because turns out it is designed for children).  Anyway all is well that ends well when it comes to adults being kids.  And at least noone had to pull the waterslide apart to get me out.  How embarrassing would that have been.


30 October 2014 – Taupo, North Island, New Zealand


Temple of the Four Winds October 31 2014 099.JPG

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