I’ve been wanting to write this piece for nearly a year…
Last January we explored New Zealand’s North Island. There are many, many wonderful sights there, just like the South Island, but unique in it’s own way.The North Island is warmer, bordering on semi-tropical on the north side. There are numerous islands on the north side of the North Island that are beautiful and special places, along with a lot of sea life. The North Island has New Zealand’s only active volcanoes, as well as a small desert in the rain shadow of one of those volcanoes – Mt. Tongariro. The North Island also has some very appealing intimate sights, just like most anyplace else in the world.
As much as I love big, bold landscapes like the Grand Canyon or New Zealand’s Southern Alps, there are many times that I also enjoy the small, intimate locations. Many times, you have these little locations all to yourself and can almost lose yourself in the solitude and the simple beauty of these places. On New Zealand’s North Island there once grew forests of large and ancient Kauri trees (Agathis australis). To see a Kauri tree is to stand in the presence of greatness. They are massive trees and impressive like redwood or sequoia, but in a slightly different way.
Kauri trees have a similar girth as sequoias and redwoods, but aren’t nearly as tall. However, they contain nearly as much usable wood since the tree doesn’t taper significantly. Also impressive is there life span as they are estimated to be many centuries, and even millennia, old. Kauri trees held a special place in the world of the Maori. As the largest tree in northern New Zealand, it provided a great hull for a Maori waka or war canoe. The Kauri tree is so large that it took a great deal of time and patience to fell one for a waka. The kauri would be selected, a clearing made around it, and then it would be left to slowly die before falling on its own or with some assistance. Seen as a member of the Maori spiritual realm, the selected Kauri tree would receive an incantation from the tohunga (priest) to propitiate Tane (The God of the Forest) and remove any religious restrictions (tapu) that might be on the tree. As an example, the waka that is on display at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is nearly 35 meters long. Kauri trees also were valuable for more modern ships and their masts, as well as building materials.
Alas, since kauri trees have been so popular, particularly by the Europeans for their ships and homes, as well as slow growing, the Kauri forests are now believed to cover about ten percent of their former area. The remaining Kauri trees are generally protected on conservation lands or simply out of respect. Kauri trees are also suffering from soil fungus infections that are making their survival even more difficult. It is breathtaking to drive through the kauri forest. While these trees are not plentiful, they are relatively easy to pick out since they are so large. We were able to behold Kauri up close in a couple of locations on the North Island. At one site while you’re driving through the Waipoua Forest with your jaw agape, after a short walk you can stand in awe of Tane Mahuta – The Lord of the Forest – the largest Kauri tree remaining in New Zealand. Even better, in my mind, was the hiking path that wound by and around several Kauri trees in the Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary near Mangamuka. At the Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary you are able to get up close and personal with several different Kauri trees, although the drive isn’t nearly as easy as getting to Tane Mahuta – but definitely worth it. You’ll very likely have Omahuta all to yourself. Carefully walk through this forest, watching your step, as you’ll likely spend much of the time looking upward!
Lastly, I think that the thing that most impressed me about the Kauri trees was the small ecosystem that each large, mature tree holds in its branches, many meters above the ground. There are so many different plants growing “up” in the sky, in the canopy of the forest, clinging to the kauri trees, and using available moisture and rain, and nutrients. That’s how you view the world when you’re partly an ecologist. Amazing!
For Carolyn, my good friend from grad school who grew up in Elk Horn Kimballton and whom I think of every time I see the Elk Horn exit sign on the interstate…
As many know, I grew up in rural southwest Iowa. It’s not as exciting as the greater Madison area, but it’s still home.
When I was on the track team in high school, our first meet when I was a freshman (I think – it was a long time ago) was at Elk Horn-Kimballton High School. It was cool/cold, rainy day, one of those “shoulder” days between winter and spring. The drive to Elk Horn for the track meet was a long one by our standards, maybe two hours. Most of our athletic events were closer as there were so many small schools in the area. I also seem to recall that our little school bus van had a flat tire on our way to the meet and we were concerned that we wouldn’t make it to the meet on time. Well, we got to Elk Horn and we found out that the meet had been cancelled due to weather. We drove back to Elk Horn the following week for the meet. That was my first visit to Elk Horn. I also recall going to Elk Horn for one of the first basketball games of my senior year and Coach Hutchings ripping me a new a**hole during the game – something about a lot of turnovers, poor decisions, that kinda thing. Yes, it was deserved, but I’ll still accept your sympathy.
Elk Horn, Iowa today is still a small town, very similar to my hometown of Malvern. (Contemporary Malvern is nearly twice as big as Elk Horn!) Elk Horn was founded by Danish immigrants and, along with Kimballton, makes up the largest rural Danish community outside of Denmark. With this rich Danish heritage and the desire to stand out, Elk Horn was chosen to be the home of The Museum of Danish America, which is quite an honor. The Museum will soon be the location of the “Jens Jensen Prairie Landscape Park.” There’s a link back to Madison and Wisconsin with Jens Jensen. While Jensen is best known for his work as a landscape architect with Chicago’s park system, he also designed the “Wheeler Council Ring” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arboretum for his grandson Kenneth Wheeler who died shortly after graduating from UW-Madison. The Wheeler Council Ring is located in the Wingra Savanna Oak area, just off of Monroe Street. After working many years in Chicago, Jensen retired to Ellison Bay, Wisconsin where he established The Clearing, his “school of the soil.”
When you visit Elk Horn, the Museum is there as you enter town. But, what you’ll first see is the beautiful Danish Windmill. My pictures don’t do it justice, as it is truly an impressive site to behold. Originally built in Denmark in 1848, the windmill “immigrated” to Elk Horn in 1976. It’s an imposing figure on the nearly flat land of west central Iowa. I hope that you’ll enjoy this gallery and consider a side trip off of Interstate 80 when you might be traveling through Iowa.