Maia Ingoe

Whakarongo ki te Tai Ao

My best mornings are spent on the couch squeezed onto our thin, sloping veranda. Washing hangs at eye level, paint peels from the railing, dust and grime coat the windowsills. On the blue-sky days, sunshine twists and spirals around shadows of trees stretching in the wind. Lime green and darkened emerald leaves, spindly branches patterning the sky. The buildings behind are hidden from view. If I’m lucky, a tūī might come to hop between the branches, or maybe a kererū.  

Brick steps lead to our house, perched on stilts, and nestled into a hillside. My bedroom edges into the encroaching soil, branches brush against my wall. In wind, we cannot leave the bathroom window open, lest leaves and branches are blown into the house, unravelling toilet paper in their fanfare. Little leaves the size of fingernails, soft to the touch, breeze into the house every time a door is open. We barely notice their intrusion, until they are scattered over carpets and kitchen lino. The brick steps are moss-covered, dangerously slippery when wet. Green shoots peer their way upwards, all-consuming weeds edge their way across the brick. I don’t mind; the deep green, the smoothness of the leaves like water, creating a thick mat covering remnants of past tenants below, is something like resilience. Mum left me bleach and a weed sprayer to deal with it, but I simply never got around to it.

I’ve begun taking my succulents outside every morning, after I accidentally brushed one and its stem snapped. Snapped seems too aggressive; it softly fell, broke, and I saw the blue-black colour of it. I tired of pulling mushed, yellowed leaves from the bottoms of green florets, seeing the wide leaves of my tallest sprout curl inwards, retreating. The others fare worse; the hairy one keeps dropping into awkward angles, and the bushy one used to bloom in white flowers, but now only one sickly leaf persists. Three more pots line the hallway, taking advantage of light from the door. Light has become a precious commodity. On sunny days, I walk to the top floors of the university library and sit facing the waterfront, so the sun burns into my eyes and warms my skin.  

With Lillias, I’ve started paying attention to what’s around my feet. Walking home one evening, she stops abruptly, entering the path to our house. She crouches down, looks into the corner of a leaf-trodden garden bed. I wonder if it’s a rat, a bird’s nest, a discarded coupon. She points. There, in the roots of a tree, is a mushroom. Brown, barely peeking out from the leaves. It’s tinier than the twig lying nearby.

Later, we come back, nearly slipping over moss-covered brick steps coming lose in their slots. In the mailbox, made of old, rotting wood, moss grows over the corners, damp and shaded in with emerald. Peeking between the boards, a little mushroom. Lillias has her camera, and we peer up from below it, pinkie fingers lightly poking at the gills underneath. Its stem is straw-thin, the cap folding sharply. Later, another grows inside, and we hope there will be no mail to disturb it. In a few days, they retreat back to where they came.

Lillias lets me see her plant identification book. Pocket-sized, scientific names beside red and green leaves. I get added to a Facebook page dedicated to mushroom identification. My feed fills up with pictures of mushroom hauls, huge ones the size of fists, little ones huddling together, creating a layered carpet. Most of us are used to the common white button and portobello mushrooms we can buy in supermarkets. New Zealand has native mushrooms too; there’s a sky-blue one, werewere-kōkako, on the $50 note.

Mushrooms grow in damp, dark areas, on forest floors in autumn or winter, and can sometimes be found in the corners of poorly ventilated Wellington flats. In the most unpleasant of environments for us, mushrooms thrive. They’re more closely related to animals than other plants, because they aren’t in the photosynthesis club, instead getting energy by breaking down their surrounding environment. The tiny cup-shaped sprouts we find breaking the surface of the underground are only a small part of fungi. Underneath our world, fungi are the instigators of networks of entanglements, of roots and nutrients of trees and plants and otherwise helpless hosts. We are only beginning to unravel these connections, mapping the places where plant species meet, connected by fungi beneath the soils. There is a world of exchange that challenges most everything we thought we knew about the natural world; challenging our own perception of the forest as a wild, unruly place, where survival of the fittest creates ruthless individualism. The connections fungi form debunk even our cultural perceptions, showing the forest instead as a community of interactions that humans, too, are wound up in.

Every day I walk down the brick steps and cast a look at the green vines coating the shaded undergrowth. I look in the corners and cracks, at the top of the concrete ledge and around trunks of trees. Any mushrooms evade my sight.

By September, all the fingernail leaves have fallen, and the spindly maze of branches divides blue sky. When I return after two weeks away, bursts of white have flowered among peppermint coloured moss on the branches. Monarch butterflies, bright orange and black, weave in and out.


I like to think I grew up in and around nature, although not as some would define it. I was born at home, on a rural valley farm outside of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa, Gisborne. We played in the trees around our garden, darting in and out below branches, and fed calves with Mum at lunchtime. We swam away our summers in the river close by, jumping off rocks and kicking up from cold depths fast, splashing, hoping we hadn’t woken the eels. There’s a photo of me, sitting on an old tree whose trunk remained rooted in the hillside, leaning horizontally over a brief drop. I used to climb out to sit on it, and pretend I was riding a horse.

In my grandparents’ garden, when they lived at the old farmhouse, there was a swing. Older cousins would push the younger ones, and we’d whoosh out over trees and leaves and everything below, at heights that seem inconceivable now, through older eyes.

In autumn, at the house of my early school years, the tall trees lining the edge of our yard would shed their leaves. These were bigger, stronger, than the tiny fruit trees that surrounded our house, newly planted and still growing. We’d rake piles of the leaves together, and jump: burying our bodies with brown and red and orange.

In summers, we’d pack ourselves up and head to the beach, camping for a week or two beside the water, fishing and swimming and watching the sun cross the sky. We planted trees here, too, and fed them up with seaweed and cowpats to make them strong.

I was surrounded by living and growing things, by moving water and life. While I explored the wilder areas of my childhood, I was also surrounded by that which was cultivated by humans. The farm where I was born, bare grass-covered hills. The orchards surrounding our homes, providing yearly influxes of oranges, lemons, mandarins. The vineyards with their dizzyingly long rows. Flat, brown fields after harvesting, and repetitive green beds of lettuce or maze taller than us, one plant to a field. This, the human cultivated, was set apart in my head; the gardens and trees belts, too, didn’t seem to be included in the abstract of nature. I expected to see some bright neon sign proclaiming “Welcome to nature!” Maybe a wall, keeping the untamed wild squarely in its domain, like that in The Secret Garden. Through the spaces we roamed, there was nothing but wire fences and paths to separate it. Leaves blow through doorways, animals cross over borders. Despite the way I organise interactions with living things, it seems like both human and wild, cultivated and overgrown are intermixed, any lines blurring until they cease to exist.

If nature is some far-off wild place that humans have not touched, I’m unsure if it exists. For that assumes we humans are not a part of nature. We are separate, and we are dominant. The Bible proclaims: Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth. Nature, as it were, is under our domain, to ruin, to cultivate, to claim, and to protect. But we function within all of nature’s living: we breathe this air and drink this water, we walk among the trees and relish in the feeling of cold water running over our skin. Our actions leave footprints, leave pollution, and chemically composed things that will never break down into soil and life. We kill, we maim, we introduce species that ravage natives. At the same time, we are at nature’s will. When I was nine there was an earthquake, the first I’d experienced; we ran to shelter under doorways. Other earthquakes have sent buildings to the ground, making crumbling mountains of concrete, burying human lives underneath. Cyclones have whipped the coast; rivers have overflowed and flooded across plains. As temperatures warm, these moments of crisis increase. Is it our central failing to assume our invincibility?

When trying to describe nature, I think the term is more of a barrier than an indicator. Instead, I find myself leaning towards the whakataukī, ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au. I am the river, and the river is me. We are intertwined, living beings in the same world.

As I ponder this, I create distinctions. I close my windows to intrusions of nature into my home, I vacuum all traces of it up. I keep plants in their little settled pots. I encase myself within air-conditioned buildings, at desks where keyboards make a chorus. On the fourth floor of the university library on July afternoons, raindrops lightly tap across the roof, although that might just be some internalised piping. Outside, a hazy mist of droplets, criss-crossing in the wind, only visible against the black walls of the building alongside. I can see smoke, or steam, from some sort of heating chimney. Sky is obscured by that blanket of white we see on cloudy days. Here, I am enclosed; there is the hum of ventilation, sniffles, tapping of keyboards, papers turning, pens writing, creak of doors. We come here to think, to breathe, to look into books without distraction.

I sit in lecture theatres and stare at projected screens where photos of our land and freshwater click by. Rolling hills and pasture; mountains and glaciers; coastlines and cliffs. Oil rigs, fertiliser run-off, fishing nets. We analyse the world through maps and diagrams and figures.


On Monday, the IPCC sixth assessment came out. By Wednesday, I couldn’t focus. My 9am lecturer held a newspaper up in class, front page picturing wildfires and headline reading ‘Code Red’. I called my mum; we talked on end. I texted my friends, sharing anger. We wished for a protest, somewhere to expel our energy.

Having all but locked in the initial target threshold we were meant to avoid, we now are on track to exceed even more dangerous levels. Just two weeks ago, I wrote an article about recent extreme weather events—flooding, wildfires, scorching and soaking land in the lead-up to the Olympics—effects of the climate crisis well on their way.

I began searching for a compost bin so my flat’s food scraps could be saved from the landfill, methane produced in their decomposition avoided. The bokashi bin pictured seemed so passive. I sent my friend an article about climate predictions for New Zealand. I tried not to think too hard about my coastal home, weakened by drought, submerged in salt water.

I sit, notebooks and laptop, on the front porch, sloping downwards, moss creeping closer. Tūī and kererū sing from the trees, joined from time to time by pīwakawaka. The traffic of Kelburn Parade roars. Water trickles from the concrete drain.

It is easy to centre ourselves, and our fear, when comprehending irreversible climate changes. It is only human to do so. Climate seems like the trump card of environmental crises; but of course, destruction is not a game of best and worst. Trees connect the soils and underland with the atmosphere and climate. The wind, rain and sun create the environment for growth of plants that feed insects and form habitats for larger animals, in the undergrowth and in the canopies. Our environment is an interconnected system—a stark contrast to our individualistic, competition-style thinking in the human domain. We, too, benefit from the air and stable climate, from the soils and plants and species flourishing in diversity. Climate change is our creation; its heat will disrupt the careful balance keeping us alive. The words ‘ecological crisis’ seem better to describe the interplay of pollution and extinction and deforestation and warming temperatures; driven by our activities, each problem feeding another like wood feeds a fire. A feedback loop, my professor called it—like how the warmth created by fossil fuels melts permafrost, releasing greenhouse gases and further driving temperature rises, locking in a chain of ruination. Even in crisis, nature works in circles and connections.

Can we re-organise our connections to nature to be of giving, not only taking, and re-integrate ourselves into a reciprocal ecosystem? Or would the most radical way for humans to make amends  be to simply disappear?


In the park off Salamanca, it was meant to be raining. Instead, the sun is bright, and an elderly couple walks together. They stop around the statue at the edge of the grassy slope, looking up at the curving shape. The noise of tyres rolling fast on the highway just a few streets over echoes in the background of birds calling to each other. Kākā, kererū, tūī. The long neck of a crane reaches over the treetops, the one working on the almost finished building at the corner of Willis and Lambton, black glass reaching higher when I pass it week on week. There’s a tractor mowing the sports ground further down, slow rolling tyres keeping the grass short, clipped, ready for the cricket games of summer. A man in a high-vis vest slowly cycles his way up Salamanca. A black SUV overtakes him. I sit on a park bench, in the shade of a kānuka tree, sandflies hazing around the branches. My reflection catching in the sunlight on the laptop screen, keys tapping. Wind blows. Sitting in a perfect crossroads; a bush-like haven behind me, trees shading grasses, engine noise intermingling with leaves and birds. Carefully curated paths and benches, short-cut grass, wide open for the sunshine. Road on the one side, free-growing gardens on the other. I take my mask off for a moment, breathe in the air. Gulping deeply, like it’s freshwater from a stream, cool and clear-flowing through my veins. In a moment, I will leave to think about assignment deadlines and climate change projections and the nachos I’ll make for dinner. For now, I like the feel of sunshine on my legs, the quiet hum of noise intermingling, the peacefulness that will persist long after we are gone. The trees take little notice, and birds continue calling.

Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua.

As man disappears from sight, the land remains.







Maia Ingoe

Maia Ingoe is an aspiring writer and Victoria University student based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington). Her most recent work can be found in Living with the Climate Crisis: Voices from Aotearoa and the Spinoff.