Forest Songbirds

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A school visit to the forest.

Submitted: October 10, 2016

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Submitted: October 10, 2016



Just the other day I gave a talk to a local group about aspects of forestry that they were particularly interested in, but often I become side-tracked and it happened again! A woman raised her hand and told me that her husband remembers me from nearly fifty years ago when I guided his school group around the Podocarp Loop walking track. He remembers the detail and about the story of an early Maori battle that I told them about. I know the guy, but didn’t know he remembered. I know him because he owned an indigenous tree nursery so I had business dealings with him.

Over the years I guided many groups through the forest and the walking tracks, making the time to do so my contribution to environmental conservation as well as displaying that exotic production forestry is a good and appropriate land use. During the summer, school groups stayed at the nearby Camp Iona for a week at a time and part of their activity was to visit the forest and to do a day tramp around the district. I have no idea how many kids I spoke to back in those days, but it turns out that at least one remembers! Tucked away in storage I still have all of the artwork and kids’ letters of thanks.

Not all of the school groups were at Camp Iona, which is why I had a call from St. Josephs Primary School requesting a visit to some native forest. I didn’t expect two nuns to turn up and they had perhaps fifteen girls with then in their neat uniforms. You can usually tell by the kids’ behaviour what the standard of teaching is, and that goes for Tanzania too, these girls seemed disciplined and polite and the nuns fussed around them like mother hens!

One of the nuns had driven them out in a mini-van, but the alfa-male in me didn’t quite trust her on the forest roads. That was then, and I bet she was very capable! Anyway, I took them up in the gang truck, but first, Albert and I thought we had better dust off the sets to protect those neat uniforms. The girls were excited about the ride, and I was a bit nervous about the mud that is always in the bush. I was a bit nervous too about my use of language. Not that I ever swore or anything like that, but I suppose the nuns made me feel that I should ditch my slow forestry, kiwi accent.  

The tour went well because the nuns had prepared the girls and provided them with questions for me to answer. I showed them how the bark of Rimu is different to that of Miro. How the naked seed of Rimu and Kahikatea sits on top of a small fleshy berry, unlike most other berries. There were some tiny indigenous orchids in flower, unspectacular but a rarity to see. They saw some Kotukutuku, Tree Fuchsia, the largest fuchsia in the world and the Ti kouka, Cabbage Tree, the largest lily in the world. They saw Kereru, our wood pigeon, the largest pigeon species in the world. And they hushed to listen to the tiny Riorio, Grey Warbler.

Before they piled into the truck for the homeward journey, on the nod of one of the nuns, a bright-eyed girl gave an elocution-style, little speech of thanks and enjoyment, finally she told me that they had no gift for me but they would sing for me. And sing they did, beautifully, All Things Bright and Beautiful! Now in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big, (that’s figuratively big) tough, nail gnawing forestry man, more at home swinging and axe than listening to choirs in the middle of the forest! The girls were singing to me, all the time looking directly at me, while I spent most of the time shuffling my feet and inspecting the toe of my boot. Maybe I was embarrassed, but they really were good, and between you and, I enjoyed it!

I thanked them and told them sincerely that I enjoyed their singing, and with that one smiling nun whispered to the other, ‘He liked it.’ waved a hand and the girls burst into a beautiful rendition of What a Wonderful World!

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