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Pages 3–5in printed edition

Jade River

Simon James in the Penelope

Jade River Inspired: One of a pair of replica Mahurangi punts built by Kerry Miller and Simon James, the latter pictured at the oars of Kerry’s Penelope. Simon was inspired to spark a Mahurangi punt revival after reading Ron Locker’s chapter on this unique-to-the-Mahurangi form. image Miller Family

A sea of jade, unruffled
reflects each sunlit headland
On this still morning
the boat glides smoothly
at gentlest dip of oars
through leaves and sea scum
drifting on the tide

These tideways once were not
Where fingers of invading salt
reach far into the hills
once streams came tumbling down
out to a sea-less Gulf
Where sea trees spring from mud
bush clothed the valley floors

The earth was cooler then
ten thousand years ago when
ice held continents in thrall
Earth since has slowly warmed
Glaciers wilting in retreat
swelled rivers with their melt
swelling in turn the sea, each tide
minutely higher than the last

In these three confluent valleys
streams met the rising salt
and were in time extinguished
Hillsides carved in sandstone
laid down beneath an ancient sea
felt once again the beat of waves
cutting cliffs, filling floors
Mangroves sprang on graves of trees

So for an age it rested
Only the ebb and flow of tides
in the three drowned valleys
the sigh of wind, the slap of waves
screech of gulls and song of birds
A thousand years ago or so
the first canoe nosed in
Eyes tired of salt horizons
saw lushness, haven
paddlers paused their stroke
as mullet jumped around them
The crew hauled out on shell
between the oyster-crusted points
Kai in plenty, for the connoisseur
a place to stay and root

In time came other prows
found the River, found it good
a place worth fighting for
Paradise was truly lost
Terraced hills bear witness still
to centuries when blood and fear
reigned on the River
Kumara fattened on the flats
must needs be stored on hilltop
refuge against the quick retreat

One fateful day, a day
that dawned like any other
a tall white ship sailed in
whaler perhaps, or man-of-war
Blue eyes gazed on the River
and found it fair
passed the word and soon
came others, eyes on timber
cutters of spars, squarers of logs
The fall of the kauri had begun
Missionaries called, a surveyor
in search of a capital

He found it farther south
and soon from that raw town
a motley crowd of hopefuls
flowed north into the River
Newly fled the old world
barely regained their land legs
they filled the vacuum
left by Hongi’s muskets
Eyeing the bays on either shore
some saw in the mind’s eye
grass where trees grew
homesteads nestling by the beach
others, stacks of planks
shaping hulls on slipways

Optimism won the day, they stayed
Scots and Irish, English, Europeans
blended with each other
and the few survivors of the land
One generation fought the bush
the next the manuka
struggling to feed their broods
to keep a toehold on yellow clay
the clay that holds their bones
In their hardened hands the River
assumed the face we know today

On this golden afternoon of summer
I sit on headland Tungutu-te-pa
Grass springs from ancient bloodstains
clothing softly the dents of war
The yachts glide in to haven
dacron sails set flawlessly
on metal masts in plastic hulls
Once it was scows
heading out for Tiri on the tide
white topmasts heeled to bellied canvas
feeling the first of the Gulf wind
cement and apples for the town
or small tall-funnelled ships
trailing coal smoke past the Saddle
three hours to town, God willing
They have passed their last horizon
taking with them the romance
or so it seems to us, inheritors
of a different dream

Whatever changes time has wrought
upon these gentle hills
the print of later lives and goals
the manuka blooms still in season
jade water flows in timeless rhythm
The oysters fatten, the kahawai run
the magic of the place endures.

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