“Sadness seeping up from the ground” – A personal experience of a book and a landscape

Pohangina River

A boy and his dog at the Pohangina River – a place of “bliss and wonder”. C. Knight

A few days ago I received the following email from Mark Gibson, who had recently finished reading Ravaged Beauty, and wanted to share with me how it had affected him personally. It was such an eloquent email that I thought it would be worth sharing with envirohistory NZ readers:

“My parents (in their late eighties) gave me the book for my birthday late last year. They live in Palmerston North.  So does my brother who farms on the Tararua foothills behind Tokomaru.

I have long lived in Christchurch but was resident in Palmerston North from age 10 to 20. I always found the Manawatu a somewhat alien landscape to live in. There was also always a pervasive sadness that seemed to seep up from the very ground. My early childhood was spent in Richmond on the Waimea Plains in the South Island and in comparison with that magical landscape the Manawatu seemed dead.

For some years we lived on the banks of the Mangaone Stream but it was seriously degraded, caged behind high stop-banks and seemed nothing but a dirty ditch.

Pohangina River 2Some of my bleakest moments as a teenager were spent steering into those polluted waters.

I could never understand why the city had not embraced the Manawatu river… put it at its heart. But there were also fleeting moments of bliss in nature in the pockets of wonder that still were there. Walking high up on Scotts Road in beautiful bush, camping next to the Kahuterawa stream, whitebaiting in the Manawatu estuary, swimming in the Pohangina River at Totara Reserve.

My gratitude is that you have provided a history and context to what I experienced as a teenager. In a real way you have helped me understand much of what I felt and didn’t have words for. You have helped bring to life what I sensed was missing. Pointed to what was wrong. And in this is healing.

I find your attempt at an explanation for why the Manawatu became what it is today really really insightful and helpful.  The last chapter where you look to the future is hopeful. I hadn’t heard the story of Joan Leckie and the achievement of Ramsar status for the Manawatu Estuary. That is really exciting and I’m now keen to return there after about a thirty year absence!”

Mark’s email is a reminder that we all experience the environment around us very differently – it is relationship of intimacy, which can be positive or negative – or both. Environmental history doesn’t alter those very intimate and personal relationships we have with the landscape around us, but it does help us speak in a “common language” about the environment, and I think this is a good thing.

Mark is also playing an important role in Christchurch’s (future) environmental history: he has leading roles with The River of Life project and the Avon Otakaro Network, both aimed at restoring the Avon River and the surrounding environment. A TV3 News clip about the restoration project can be viewed here.

2 thoughts on ““Sadness seeping up from the ground” – A personal experience of a book and a landscape

  1. This email is a total validation of all the work and dedication you put into ‘Ravaged Beauty’. Sad, but good that the writer is devoting his energy to restoring another ravaged river.

  2. A very, very moving response. But things must change at the top too. We are still treating the environment as a sub-section of the economy. This relationship must be tipped upside down if our future on this planet has a chance.

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