21 January 2017

Mountain Frond Feather

In this family we (led me by me) are trying to grasp every fragment of the combination of summer weather, conveniently aged children and natural beauty. Feet are meeting mossy paths, hands are swinging on branches and mountains are being climbed.

Unfortunately, a bit of petrol's being burned, but we've travelled no further than two hours from home.


Pureora is a State Forest Park in the centre of the North Island. It's a place of giant totara, stunning bush and wonderful birdlife. The camping's $6 a night for an adult, which makes up for the fact that the toilet's a long drop (but strangely, otherwise clean and completely unsmelly). The roads are unsealed and pot-holed, but that just adds to the character. The ex-logging village is now almost a ghost town, with just a handful of occupied houses. Perfect. See ya later civilisation.

Once upon a time I worked here. It's on a plateau well above sea level, so it gets chilly. We had frosts in March and piles of ice in May.

This time around we climbed Mt Pureora, which took about 1.5 hours and gave us stunning views of Lake Taupo and snowy Mt Ruapehu.

Everything gets mossy approaching the treeline.

The view, and a rest.

Coming down felt good....
I'm a bit in love with ferns.
The children gasped: the dead tree fern fronds look like they've been spray-painted gold!
In all my 43 years I've never noticed that. Now I'll never un-notice it..

We climbed a forest tower that took us into the tree tops (and these are big trees). It is near the site of an historic protest that moves me greatly. This is how the story goes: the New Zealand Forest Service, a government department, was logging Pureora forest. Of course most of our country's forest was clear-felled in the last 150 years or so, and that had largely stopped. But they were still doing 'selective logging' of the huge old totara trees. Naturally, felling enormous trees and dragging them out of the forest involves a lot of collateral damage.

A mighty old totara tree, playing host to many guests.
Some barefooted greenies decided that it had to stop. "Over our dead bodies," they virtually said as they climbed into the trees, ready to camp out there as the loggers approached. Others went into the forest and hid in the vicinity so that the loggers couldn't tell where they were. (They had tried all the sensible ways first, like petitioning parliament, begging and presenting rational arguments.)

There were some very angry loggers and millers, and a lot of money lost, but the logging operation was paused and then cancelled. Native logging eventually ended in New Zealand. It was also proven that the old trees, with their Thidwick-the-big-hearted-moose burden of vines, perching plants and moss, were vital to the endangered kokako bird's diet (that is true for many other bird species, too). It was once called the 'organ bird' for its song, which I hoped to hear on our trip but didn't, despite knowing there are now plenty of the birds around.

Aah, bloody greenies, what would they know?

I feel incredibly grateful to those people. Now we have this priceless, stunning forest (actually it's a bit patchy, but the good bits are great). Importantly, it's not just for us to enjoy. It, and its many inhabitants, are there for themselves, surviving, and the world is a better place for it.

Mount Maunganui

I grew up climbing this old volcano, which juts up bizarrely at the end of a flat sandy peninsula (on which many houses are built - foolish, I still say so many years after that Sunday School song, to build on sand!) and guards the entrance to Tauranga harbour. One summer evening after Christmas I climbed it. It was cool and windy, and I almost had the place to myself, despite it being a tourist mecca these days.

I got a few snaps amidst the huffing and puffing.

 And then, at the bottom, the surf beach. On it - one of the country's most popular tourist beaches, nearing the height of the season, had nested a pair of variable oystercatchers.

Spot the eggs in the 'nest': merely a scrape in the sand.
White sandbags protecting the nest from high seas, and rope and a sign to keep people away.
The incubating bird kept getting off its nest when people came near.

Last I heard, about a fortnight ago, the chicks had hatched!

10 January 2017

Barefoot walking three years on

A bit over three years ago I embarked on a year of walking, and I'm pleased to say I've never stopped. (In fact I walked a lot before then, anyway.) When it's not winter, I wear these shoes to walk:

Vibram FiveFingers, well used.

Ugly to look at, but so beautiful to feel - like bare feet, but with no risk of bee stings or a stone in the foot. In winter I wear socks and leather boots with a vivobarefoot sole, which is definitely second best in terms of sensitivity, but warm and dry. The vibrams aren't at all waterproof, which is a pity. I also dislike the colours - I'm not a neon kind of person.

This was one of my most memorable recent walks, up Mount Maunganui:

More on that in my next post, because walking in a beautiful place is as important as what's on your feet!

A local track.

What I've learnt in three years of (nearly) barefoot walking

After three years of removing propped-up-at-the heel, stiff and separate-from-the-earth conventional shoes, what have I noticed?

1. 'Normal' shoes feel like barges under my feet. I hate the feeling and never wear them.

I use the boot as a doorstop. Literally.

2. Barefoot shoes are much safer. When scrambling up or down a bank, conventional shoes feel like skis in comparison. The barefooters allow instant, sensitive, subconscious feedback of what's underfoot. Which would be safer, climbing a slippery bank with bare hands or in hands with thick leather gloves?

A barefoot shoe line up: vibram FiveFingers flanked by vivobarefoot shoes.

3. The feet change when unconstrained, as do their messages to the brain, and the brain's ability to 'hear' them. When scrambling up or down that bank, the strong, flexible feet that develop over months and years make instant adjustments to compensate for what's underfoot. They can mold, flex and grip to the surface. No thinking required.

3. The interplay of nerves between the brain and the feet takes months or years to re-develop. I'm not sure if I've got full feedback yet, but I think it took at least two years to really sense little undulations, textures and hardness of the ground. I thought it happened very fast, but only after more than two years did I realise how much had continued to change. The big realisation came when I found I could walk on completely flat paved surfaces quite happily in my vibrams (although I still prefer softer, undulating surfaces). My feet naturally take on a lightness of step to compensate for the flat, hard ground. To be honest, I don't really know what compensations they're making - my feet and the pertinent part of my brain team up to do it without any conscious oversight from me. I can merely peer at the adjustments from the outside.

4. Something I've learned from watching others walk in built-up shoes: If the feet and ankles can't mold and flex to encompass undulations, the legs and body wobble instead. It looks like teetering. What does that do to knee joints?

5. Who decided that it was 'better' to improve on hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and prop our heels up above the toes? This is a fundamental change to how our feet have evolved to stand and walk, and requires compensation by other parts of the body. Even running shoes have elevated heels.

My husband's newish shoes. How many blokes have toes
arranged in this shape? His toes are distorted inwards
in these. It's a very mild version of Chinese foot binding.
From Wikipedia
6. We don't notice. That's the maddest thing: until we experience the opposite, we don't notice that we are propping our heels up where they're not meant to be, squeezing our toes together so that the exterior shape of our shoes is fashionable, and putting a big fat layer of stuff between what is meant to be an area of sensitive interaction between soles and the ground they traverse.

7. Modern technology is fantastic. Now it can allow that sensitive interaction while still providing some protection. And yet I am almost always the only person around with weird shoes. Most people haven't got there yet. Give it 10 years.

I love these, but they only made them big enough for my daughter, not me!

8. Barefoot shoes don't last as long - only about two years. But they are much cheaper than the orthotics I used to have to wear to avoid pain, or the physiotherapist/osteopath/surgeon fees. Of course this early expiry date is an bad thing environmentally.

Split vivobarefoot boots after two winters of solid wear.

Split vibram five-fingers after a year - but I did buy them second-hand.

9. It goes like this: once we didn't realise the importance of eating food that's as close to 'natural' as possible. Now there is overwhelming evidence to support that, and everybody's doin' it (or not, sadly, which is expensive for the health system). It's increasingly becoming apparent that there's not a lot you can interfere with in nature without some unpleasant side effects. My feet are revelling in that realisation, and triumphantly and comfortably shouting that footwear is one of those things.

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