by: Emily Meeks
Tucked into the corner of the South Island of New Zealand, the Kepler Track passes through mountains, forest, waterfalls and glacier-carved valleys across Fiordland National Park.
In February 2019, my husband and I traveled to New Zealand to complete some of the Great Walks, such as Kepler – trails developed and managed by the Department of Conservation. Kepler was designed not out of a historical footpath but specifically for the pleasure and delight of the landscape.
Kepler introduced me to New Zealand’s four seasons in one day. Weather, even in summer, can change quickly and unexpectedly.
We first learn of the cold front and rain coming in from our hut ranger, Pat. It’s sunny and warm as he leads a pre-dinner nature tour around Luxmore Hut but the winds are picking up, swaying the gray hairs in his cropped beard. He wears shorts, a fleece, socks and sandals, almost ready to change with whatever the elements will bring. He bends down to show us something in between the rocks. It’s an everlasting daisy. As I listen, I touch the underside of moss so soft it feels like a pillow of fairies.
He speaks of the daisy surviving in alpine zones because of the support of cushion plants – stems, shoots, foliage and moss. These plants “cushion” from abrasive winds and trap heat within.
It is hard to imagine that we will awake to lose panorama views of Lake Te Anau and the Kepler mountains – to start day 2 of the trek to Irish Burns Hut with little visibility. These nine miles are supposed to be the crown jewel of the trek.
We layer with merino wool and waterproof gear, feeling certain the rain will stop. Instead, water streams in every direction including down my legs – I forgot to zip my rain pant pockets (brilliant).
I work for footing but the vertical ascent up feels more like a battle to not be knocked horizontal. We move closer to the Luxmore Saddle, the highest point on the trail, where views of waterfalls fill in every corner of my view – I imagine their drumming beat below. I want to be filled with wonder and yet all I can feel is sleet and wind.
Just the evening before the light warmed our backs and spoke of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. I recall the everlasting daisy wobbling in Pat’s palm. I change my focus from the waterfalls to look for tiny petals grounded in rock, of life persisting in the fury of the storm.
In the blurriness of the pandemic, when the visibility ahead also seems low and isolation, fear and uncertainty overwhelm, I find myself returning to the everlasting daisy wobbling in rain, sleet and rain. I recall its resilience that comes from layers of surrounding texture that gives life and nourishment to its internal roots. I wonder if I conceive of a God who is majesty and power and nuance and detail? How do I support others to not just withstand but to thrive? How do I allow others to be a source of support instead of willing my own way to prove independence or to avoid being hurt?
Recently in a young adult Lenten book study, we discuss themes of Celtic Spirituality in J. Phillip Newell’s Listening to the Heartbeat of God. We explore thinking about an “everlasting pattern” that intertwines heaven and earth, invisible and visible, of immediacy and eternity.
Newell describes grace as enabling human nature to “flourish” because of the light that is within – burgeoning as a result of what is already there and not to be deterred by an attempt to keep discomfort away. Grace can make its way in spite of the pain and our failed attempts of self-protection. Grace grows because perhaps we more fully know the Holy when we recognize our interdependence.
And that’s when I realize that when I recall the quiver of the everlasting daisy – whether on a Fiordland ridgeline or after a long day of virtual work, this is prayer without ever saying a word.
Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.