4 March 2024

A collaboration between freshwater ecologist Kati Doehring and illustrator Jean Donaldson. Edited by Jonathan Burgess.

Tēnā koe – let me introduce myself. My name is dacrydium cupressinum, but most of you would know me as rimu. Gather close, for I have a story to share – a tale woven with resilience and hope.

My home lies nestled within a 400-hectare farm in the enchanting expanse of Dovedale Valley, cradled in the embrace of Te Tau Ihu, the top of the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Here, amidst the ebb and flow of seasons, I have stood witness to the dance of life for centuries untold.

I have seen many creatures come and go. During my childhood, when my brothers and sisters were still standing tall next to me, big feathery chicken-like critters roamed my courtyard. Those were tranquil and harmonious days.

Then, during my teenage years, two-legged creatures appeared. Their needs were very different from mine, and they changed what used to be. It was in 1881 that the Win family became stewards of this land, altering the tapestry of my existence forever. John, the first generation farmer, did what was right at the time. They took my brothers and sisters, my aunties and uncles and used them to build their houses, churches and schools. They did what was right at the time.

I held on tight to what I had – my roots, my beliefs, my mana. I stood taller than ever at 60m in height. I am, after all, one of Aotearoa’s tallest forest species.

Life for me was in constant flux. Farming generations came and went – second, third and fourth – and with them the way they farmed. From Clydesdale horses to machines taking away my kin, then bulldozers root raking the soils that protected my veins. They put up fences to keep pigs, sheep and cattle in place, and secured hillsides and strengthened waterways to stop them from washing away. They did what was right at the time.

I watched how the land around me transformed into mosaics I had never seen before. Different creatures appeared, adding new colours to my courtyard. Goats, possums, magpies, wasps, old man’s beard and wild pigs spread like wildfire. And I stood tall.

Over the last two generations, I noticed more change and it made my roots tingle with excitement. Twenty years ago, the fifth-generation farmer, Arthur, together with his family, ensured that my family could come back and have a safe space to grow and thrive – two families bonded through time. They protected the patch of land I stand on so tall – all 25 hectares (61 acres) – and called it a Significant Natural Area. They did what was right at the time.

Today, under the stewardship of the sixth generation, led by Bryce, I am allowed to thrive once more. Together with his parents Arthur and Debbie, and Grandfather Bob, they farm for life, not just for a living. They do what is right. They reduced stock numbers over time and decreased fertiliser use on their farm.

As for me, I stand taller than ever. With each passing day, year, decade and century, I await the dawn of tomorrow with eager anticipation. I am an ancient witness to the many facets of land stewardship, observing the shift of environmental goalposts across the past and future of land management in Aotearoa.

Just the other day, I saw Bryce and his family plant a seedling, whose story can unfold under the protection of my canopy over centuries to come. They will do what is right.

Special thanks to Debbie Win for sharing the Win family story with us.

Kati is a freshwater ecologist who specialises in science communication, and a member of TPM Whānau. You can read more about her work with freshwater catchment communities here: https://ourlandandwater.nz/project/register-of-land-management-actions/

Jean Donaldson is a designer and native bird fanatic based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. You can see more of her work at https://jeanmanudesign.com/.