Hello, Mother Nature. I am getting to know you well here in these pieces of land hanging off the bottom of your swollen body. You’ve taught me it is possible for all of your beauty and, occasionally, all of your tragedy to fit into a country the size of your bellybutton.
In America, you’ve birthed places like my backyard Sierra Nevadans and the expanse of the yucca tree and sagebrush deserts. The Grand Canyon. The Appalachians. The Alaskan tundra. You’ve given America plenty of wonders. But despite it all, you have lost most of your say in what we do with you.
You’ve tried to wake us with hurricanes on the coasts, tornadoes through the middle, floods, avalanches, earthquakes and all those mighty things you are capable of. But for most Americans, these are fleeting news items. We think little of the northern lights or broken levees when we are in office buildings or fast-food drive throughs. America is too big. You can send your armies of storms and disasters, but the people, we will be the ones who will end up destroying ourselves before you have a chance to do it for us.
Of course, America isn’t your only problem child. You’re greatness is being forgotten all over this planet underneath the overflow of people and our emissions, nuclear dump sites, the hordes of tourists who have worn down and polluted you for a cheap vacation.
I can say these things because I, too, am a culprit. In America, in Europe, in Thailand, in Vietnam – I never really knew you so I never knew how to respect you.
It’s only here that I have learned who you are.
On one short road trip, I saw rugged coastlines, mountains with peaks so high they had disappeared into the puffed clouds above. I saw how you could pour down rain and flood rivers and gorges. I saw your lakes, climbed on your glaciers, floated through fjords where your Southern Alps jutted out of deep black water. On another trip, I visited your islands and your eastern cape. I drifted through caves dripping with glowworms, swam in your miles and miles of wild ocean.
And now, I am feeling first hand how alive and immediate you can be.
Over the past five days, you’ve been rattling the earth below us. Sending people like me into a low-burning panic. You cracked the concrete buildings we’ve put up on top of you and have sent us running underneath door frames and wooden tables, praying these things will be our salvation if you choose to bring it all down around us. But you’ve been kind. No one killed. No one hurt very badly. You’ve moved us just enough to let us know that you will be heard. That even though you have let us chop down native forests to build fish and chip shops and farmland, you were the one to create this country. You were the one to shape it into what it is today. And you will be the one who will one day take it all away.
In New Zealand, there is you. All else is fleeting, a precious gift from you to me.