Here at Wilderlife, we’re collating Victoria’s diaries, photos and videos into a digest. Each post spans a section of Te Araroa between major towns and rest days.
Walking with her seven-year-old daughter Emilie, together they are raising funds for Federated Mountain Clubs and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy.
A blue space in a green space says ‘sit beside me awhile.’
So I sit, the white noise of water on rock soothing my soul and the bright afternoon sunlight warming my skin.
I am beside one of the many small streams carrying melted snow down off the mountain, with the bright sunlight on one side and heavy grey cloud on the other.
Turning my head, I can see the heavy cloud has called in reinforcements. Together they lurk at the edges of the sky, casting dark blue shadows over the lower flanks of the mountain and obscuring his gleaming snow covered tops.
For now the sun is gallantly holding fort over the small valley, turning up the volume on a rich array of colours — blonde and mustard streaks of the tussock grass, russet reds and orange of lichen on rock, bright greens of tiny hebes.
It sure is pretty.
Further down the creek, a naked forest nymph holds court on a rock, her long plaits dangling almost to the water as she peers down into her realm.
I’d love to join her and feel the soft breeze on my bare skin, but I am self conscious of other humans and my soul is still sore.
Someone once asked what triggers me and I answered vaguely. But now that I think about it, it’s people that trigger me: interactions with people, my desire to join and be accepted by them in conflict with my instinct to withdraw and hide from these often volatile, unsafe creatures.
As humans, we seem hardwired with the desire to be accepted and affirmed. Then when we’re not, we suffer the burn of rejection and the deep shame that comes with it.
For my trauma affected brain, this knee-jerk reaction brings about a violent change in my biochemistry. It’s almost palpable. If you’ve ever sat quietly and watched a snail or a hermit crab timidly come out of its shell — seeking, searching — only to recoil and telescope itself back inside. And during those moments of primal panic, no amount of coaxing can bring it back out in a hurry.
It’s taken me a long time to understand that I’ve become hardwired to perceive rejection and judgment from my fellow humans, and to preemptively hide my inner self from them. And this place of relative safety has become a terribly lonely sanctuary.
But out here, there is nothing to judge me. Nature is far too preoccupied with its own dealings to notice my presence, let alone bother to affirm me.
I sigh and relax my body against the warm rocks, and the creek sighs with me.
I love how everything out here is interconnected. The individual droplet of water joins a billion others to become a creek, a stream, a mighty river slowly carving a path through stone.
Hebe rubs shoulders with tussock grass, dracophyllum, and mountain toatoa. Here and there I see a splash of alpine daisy, mosses and lichens. Nature isn’t exclusive; everything is welcome to grow and thrive.
Everything seems to have some quiet purpose, some kind of mysterious order — a symbiosis. Even the decaying tree is home to a million tiny organisms, helping return it to the earth again.
I wonder what my place is.
Movement catches my eye and distracts me from my musings. The forest nymph is in her element, chuckling with the stream and babbling away in her own happy language. I watch as she dips her little brown feet in the water, laughing at the sky, before returning to her warm spot on a wide flat rock.
Blessed be the children of nature, for they will always have a place to which they can return . . . a place without judgment where they will always belong.
Victoria and Emilie are walking the Te Araroa over the 21/22 summer season. They are raising funds and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy. To see all their stories, visit wilderlife.nz/adventures_with_emilie/ and follow them @adventures_with_emilie on Instagram and Facebook.
90% of the funds raised are donated evenly between the Mental Health Foundation and the Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ Mountain & Forest Charitable Trust. 10% is going towards some of the expenses of walking the trail.
If you’d like to help them out, please donate via their give a little page.