After nine weeks in New Zealand, I’m back home.
Fresh grizzly tracks marked the trail running through the back pasture where I took my first walk. Three wolves traversed the hillside within days of my return. Bull elk graze each morning on that same hillside, their antlers stubby bits of velvet, foreshadowing the great racks they will soon carry. The raven pair still sits on the arena fence, and the spring birds are also returned: bluebirds, robins, swallows, flickers, red-tail hawks, sandhill cranes, and ruby-crowned kinglets. All sing with the joyous sounds of the season, establishing territories and calling to mates. Pussy willows flourish and spring flowers dot the land with color, while surrounding slopes are green with the vibrant hue of new growth.
After a lengthy time away, to be immersed in this community of life is a wonder, the contrast to New Zealand heightening my awareness of the unique and special quality of this land. Here in this Montana valley, the diversity of species remains high, extinctions low. A majority of the flora and fauna that abound are native: the species belong. (Yes, noxious weeds exist, but they are still a minority.) This small corner of the world holds an ecosystem altered by human impacts, yet it still provides habitat for myriad species, allowing the cycles of life to turn, the living things to survive.
New Zealand had no humans until around 1200 AD, when the Maori arrived, European explorers and colonists coming later. Until people arrived, the only mammal was the bat. The coming of humans devastated the creatures that had evolved without defenses against mammalian predators, including people and the animals they introduced: rats, possums, stoats, and more. And there are no defenses against overhunting (causing the extinction of moas and other birds), wholesale logging of forests, and draining of wetlands. It’s estimated New Zealand’s vertebrate fauna has been halved, and forests reduced by almost 70%. There are no New Zealand ravens sitting on fence rails: the great black bird went extinct about 1500 AD.
Many New Zealanders care deeply about preserving and restoring native species and habitat; hard work and numerous programs have brought several species back from the edge of extinction. Still, during my time there, the loss from the land felt tangible, like a haunting presence wherever I went. More on that in future writings.
Those weeks on the other side of the planet were rich with experience, both inspirational and disheartening. I come home with that time wrapped around my heart and mind, bringing perspective to this place I know as home.