03 May 2006

Happy Valley - The price of coal

Accompanying pics can be found on my flicker sets happy valley & into the valley

There was this moment driving up into the mountains, on the way into a remote part of the New Zealand wilderness, on our way to occupy the site of a proposed coal mine. I was surrounded by dammed fine looking mountains sweeping straight down into the ocean, baking hot sunshine, in a van full of dammed fine looking kiwis listening to some dammed fine kiwi tunes on the stereo... I thought: somewhere along the line I did something right.

We were on our way into Happy Valley to start an occupation of a unique wetland under threat of destruction for the high grade coal beneath, mainly to export for aluminium smelting. Drinks cans, cars, bikes, ladders, foil, office blocks..and much more. It's a Kiwi habit, the endangered NZ Icon, and home to many other species, including a snail unique to the area. And then there's all that carbon in the coal... There is already a huge mine close by, and they want to wreck more of the area. You can read more about the campaign here, I'll tell you more about life in the valley.

The west coast is place of extremes.. when its hot, its hot hot hot. When we first arrived in the valley the west coast was 'experiencing a period of unusually dry weather' (that phrase is getting far to familiar). But oh the swimming holes! There are few things more fantastic after getting baked all day than being in a remote wilderness plunging into icy water.. then warning up in the sun on the rocks. I've been learning to jump of big rocks. Well I'm not sure learning is the right word for it, as it doesn't take much skill.. just a bit of nerve. I'd never jumped of anything this high before.

Then finally the rains came.. and we all retreated to our tents. The dry cracked mud for the wetland finally came into its own. It got cold and damp. There isn't a really dry communal space at the camp, and in the rain no one wants to take their sleeping bags out of their tents.. so we mainly end up curled up on our tents dozing an reading all day, venturing out when we get to hungry. Sometimes going out on missions and getting very wet!
The tarp over my tent made a perfect water catcher and I could just lean out of the fly and fill up! The kitchen and shelter tarps made even better ones so we'd fill up every pot and pan we can find with the clear, pure lovely rainwater. mmm so fresh!


The different pace of life is so good. There is so much peace, so much time not thinking of anything except concentrating on the rough terrain and putting one foot in front of the other without re-twisting my ankle. New things become important, using your senses, learning to track, checking for footprints, broken twigs, being really aware or your surroundings.

Everyone started having really viviid dreams, really amazing ones that often sorted things out in your head where you wake up feeling better about things you haven't consciously thought about for months. It made me realise how good for you having some good rest, physical effort and concentration can do to your head-space. You can feel how repressive and damaging our lifestyles in the city are away from the nature, space and beauty needed our psyches as well as our bodies. We're not evolved to be shut in boxes and it ain't good for us! Ok enough ranting... back to the the valley..

The world turns

Sunsets in the valley are glorious, there no other word for it. The red tussock of the valley floor lights up aflame in the setting sun.. and then the stars! Hours and hours and hours were spent laid out staring up at the night sky, I've never seen clearer. Real night, without the orange glow deadening everything.

A couple of years ago I didn't know moonbows exsisted. I heard the word and thought it was some hippy invention after to much acid.. wooh, like moonbows man. However, one wet moonlit night after a long wet windy day we were all clustered around the kitchen bender around cups of tea. We were enjoying the break from the relentless rain while watching huge cloulds blowing down the valley below us and catching glimpses of the moon and stars in breaks between the clouds. We were all staring at the moon and then someone glances in the opposite direction and gasps.. we all turn and there arching across the sky in a huge rainbow, but appearing monochrome in the night sky. The area under the moon-bow glowing slightly brighter then the rest of the sky. Now that was quite a thing! Moonbows man!

Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi
After taking part in the kiwi listening, and the serious lack of Kiwis in the Nina Valley, it was an amazing surprise to find such an active kiwi population in HV. Most nights I'd wake up to the kiwis calling. At first I was an expert (all that tape listening!) and was asked to shout 'Kiwi', whatever time of night it was, usually 5 am! But soon everyone started to recognise their calls and soon the familiar conversation struck up.. "Male?" "nah female.."
However I never got tired of waking up to it , so many nights in those quiet hours before dawn laying in my tent on the edge of camp listening to the calls before drifting back to sleep. It hasn't taking me that long to become familiar with exotic soundscape; Bell birds, Weka, Kiwi, Frogs (Ozzie import) Fernbirds, Morepork, Tui and those darn possums.

The bell bird has such a distinctive call, the ones in the valley sang a repeated - DCDAG - and as we went about our days you'd hear people absent mindedly whistling the bell birds tune...

One night we had a morepork flying through camp and land on the kitchen tent as we all watched open mouthed. A shy Morepork come to visit! (check out the pic of the little morepork chicks down on the right - we didn't see any but these are totally cute).

However, that wasn't all we could hear. It could be all to easy to get absorbed in the valley and forget what was so close by, and our long walks in which stayed well away from any signs of human encroachment made this more so. But day and night there'd be huge explosions from blasting, and the sounds of the machinery. Boom, Beep, Crunch, and a reminder of what danger hangs over this remote wilderness. The camp can be seen on the bottom left here and just a sectiojn of the huge Stockton mine looms above. You can click on any of my pics for a larger version.

We wont let it happen here!

More pics of the Valley & camp can be found on my flicker sets happy valley & into the valley
(big ups to the talented Jen - Pics 5, 6 8 & 9 posted here are hers..)


cookie said...

I didn't tell yo about the Weka!(the bird trying to raid our compost bins in the pic on the blog post) that joined the camp which we named Milly & Willy, then a third small one arrived, which we called mini. Then a couple of weeks in a very exciting thing happend. we spotted two tiny furballs waddling after Milly. Babies! We named then Chilli and Nilli, however after many, many days Weka stalking we never seemd to have our cameras at the ready when they made an appearance. Milly is in the pic, you can tell her from the ruffled tuft on the back of her neck.

cookie said...

To link up the different climate destroying projects I've been visiting I thought I'd bring little of the west coast of Ireland to the West coast of Aotearoa (new Zealand) and make some boxty - a potato and flour pancake we learnt to make out at the protest camp in Mayo,. I've made it OK before but this time was a disaster! I'm not sure what happened....

cookie said...

Manuka Honey Vodka Toddies..
FInal abuse of the comments to sneakily make this stupidly long blog bigger! Well done if you've made it this far...
After admitting to my cookie failures you need to hear of a success, my creation..
Manuka Honey Vodka Toddies..
Made from boiling up fresh manuka 'bush tea' from the trees around us, then when its cool enought not to ecaporate off the alcohol, adding in honey and vodka. Yum, the perfect thing to pass around to warm you on a stary night.