Flash Frontier

October 2023: RĀKAU | TREE

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Afterglow, Keith Nunes
Keith Nunes, Afterglow

About Keith Nunes

Ghost in the Tree

Ari Prakash


A lone leaf doesn’t tremble because of the cold. It does so because a ghost is nearby. I know this because my grandmother had said so.

When the Fiji summers were hot, and the house walls were stifling, it was tempting to go out in the evening when it was too cold for the mosquitos and the sunlight settled along the horizon, heavy as honey. My grandmother would tell her children about the ghosts that sat in trees. They inhabited the unwieldy macrocarpas and the rata, whose red flowers looked like birds in the day and eyes at night.

The trees stayed silent when inhabited by a ghost, the leaves still, and the boughs empty of animals as eggs grew cold in nests. But one leaf would tremble alone, under the breath of a ghost who waited to snatch up an unwary child.

This story has survived across generations and across an ocean’s journey. But instead of taking this tale as a warning, I look for a ghost in noisy trees which quieten for no one.

The closest I’ve got is at the beach, where the pōhutukawa face the sea. Sometimes, when the pōhutukawa are still, I catch the wavering of a lone leaf. But I’m never sure if it’s real or my own mind, looking for someone who isn’t here.

About Ari Prakash


Deb Jowitt


His father told him to forget his highfalutin ideas about school. It was either the mill or the mine, and Tom hated the thought of being buried underground.

“The sawyers will show you the ropes,” the foreman said, as he led Tom past weathered logs.

The sawyers were gnarly fellows, long-faced, yellow-eyed, with the odd missing finger. They wore steel-toe boots, and baggy jackets and trousers, but Tom soon found their looks were at odds with their knack for turning tree trunks into flitches and slabs, sharpening sawblades to cut through heartwood without wavering.

On Sundays, the men did their washing and rested up. Tom discovered a new language as they reminisced: bow and bucksaw, cross-grain, gimlet and gouge, jigsaw and joint, split and stringer. A tot of whiskey, and talk turned to experience, intuition, and fallen majesties, as if their day-to-day work touched something divine.

They left the day the grocer’s boy rode into camp with news of a war against King and Empire. Tom, too young to join up, stayed with the grizzled relics of earlier wars. They taught him the secrets of the mighty trees they milled: the hidden grain and figured burrs of kauri, rimu, and tōtara, revealed in planks, posts, and boards.

Time went by, and Tom rarely recalled his father; if he did, he was grateful to have solid wood in his hands, not a miner’s pick. Of schooling, he never gave a second thought.

About Deb Jowitt


Carrie Beckwith


The knife cuts, he sands, blows, dust gathering like snow at his feet. It caught his eye on the forest floor. That pleasing shape, the curve and fold of the wood, natural yet preternatural. In the deep pine forest where Pappa used to take him.  

When he was tired, he’d climb onto Pappa’s shoulders, feeling the reverberations as they made their giant steps through the trees. Their shadow running long ahead. He’d raise his arms and they’d be the greatest giant ever and Pappa would roar into the fresh minty air. 

In winter, skis swishing in unison. Quick, even strokes. In spring, the huge spewing tree fungi. Lichen, like low cloud. Orange, green, white. The sharpness when the sap was running. You could taste it.

Seasons emulsifying as he grew too big to ride shoulders. Pappa, not so big; wanting to stay by the potbelly stove. Whittling a microcosm of the forest for his windowsill.

He holds the wood to the light, there! Not as good as Pappa’s, but the huge, cupped antlers of an elk. 

He takes the lift to the 17th floor of the wooden building he helped build. On the viewing platform, he rests his hands on the warm wooden rail and looks out across the ocean of trees. There, where they cut the wood, and there, the factory where they milled and shaped it. The rhythm of his life is pleasing.

“Pappa, see the giant I made.” From the forest depths an elk bellows.

About Carrie Beckwith

Liana Ashenden, Man surveys his domain
Liana Ashenden, Man, trees, sky

About Liana Ashenden

The Cord

Vera Dong


I nurtured a red rosebush / to cut my garden’s silence / Soon she grew / full of jade green spikes / Her tender base was cradled / by the living roots of an old stump / An ancestral shrine

With a silk ribbon / I locked her over-stretching branches / closer to the stump / Her spikes turning darker green

When storms approached / I picked the new roses / arranged them in an ancient celadon vase / I saw water drops / rolling down her petals

When drought endured / I nourished her, drop by drop / from a timeworn teacup in sacrificial red / my rosebush reached out / when I untied the ribbon

About Vera Dong

Walnut dreams she was human



San Pedro, Eucalyptus and Walnut huddle around a taxidermy-table.

Three pints of organic plant food?

The orders are laid before them. The trio take and pour the liquid fertilizer over themselves.

Ahh. Good ole local. Always gets the NPK ratio just right. 

Walnut puts down her pint.

I dreamt I was a human last night.

… Must have been a thrill of a dream.

What’s it even like being a human?

I guess you just stand still and can’t move.

Nah, I dreamt I was a moving human. 

Eucalyptus flaps her leaves in laughter. 

I think the fertilizer’s gone to her intercellular regulators!

… There was a time when all trees were immobile, and birds and bees would nest in our bodies.

Eucalyptus flaps her leaves again. San Pedro spits out some thorns.

For millennia our souls were sealed in a sacred scroll, made from the fibres of the First Tree.

A scroll made from a tree? 

You really have lost it, Walnut. 

Humans used to chop us down and make us into tables and huts and all sorts of things. 

San Pedro slams his bulky arms on the table. 

Now you’re just being insulting. 

Don’t be so thorny, Pedro. Sorry, Walnut.

No, I think I may have said too much. 

Walnut puts on her yakuza-bodysuit and leaves. 

Walking through a narrow road surrounded by a forest of a thousand naked humans of all shapes and sizes standing alert, Walnut sees their dead eyes. She imagines they are staring back. 

About Samito

Parentis Radiata

Sarah Cohen


I’m six and there’s a tree at Grandad’s farm. It’s big with wide branches and a rope swing that flies over the weeds below. Sometimes I can’t change shoes before we go and visit. One day I lose my jandal in the thorns and Grandad has to piggyback me.

I’m nine and have learned to keep my outside shoes by the door, ready if we go to the farm in a hurry. I’m now old enough to go to the tree by myself! I try eating pine needles because Grandad said they were edible. He won’t tell me what respite care means.

I’m twelve and the farm is now my home. I look up from the swing and for the first time I see the rope cutting into the tree. How many rings are in that branch? How long before it learned to grow around it?

Fourteen-ish, if that matters. Why is everything grey? Oh. That’s red. How many rings in this branch? There’s now a rusting box-cutter somewhere in the blackberry. I don’t talk about it. I feel nothing but the uneven bark against my back.

I’m seventeen, off to university pretending all is well. I miss the big storm that tears my tree in half.

At twenty-one I visit on my own terms and with a degree to my name. I pick my way through the thorns. The old swing branch lies splintered in the blackberry.

I’ll be thirty-five in a week. The scar still hurts sometimes.

About Sarah Cohen

Reihana Robinson, Detail from Tree of Life and Death
Reihana Robinson, Detail from Tree of Life and Death

About Reihana Robinson

A Recipe for Disaster

Lynda Scott Araya


Take one bereaved woman, her son, a mighty tōtara felled by mental illness, and she hadn’t known/had always known the pain chip chip chipping at him, wearing him down, washing away all that he was and should have been, so now on this hot December day she wanders through the Queenstown Cemetery, air redolent with wild thyme, the crushed citrus tang of leaves crushed underfoot and cries hot ugly tearsfor a son gone while above pale faces goggle at grief from gondola bubbles.  

Wait until September and stir in strong winds, the sharp bite of snow melt, torrential rain that batters the pine-blanketed mountain, a helping of climate change that clashes downwards a gondola, sends senseless slash and denuded trees down to dash the tombstones, to uproot the laurel upon which the woman had seen a pīwakawaka hop, and the people had known, had always known about the yellow hard hats barking orders, the pale trunks like corpses beneath the gondolas and profit instead of care. 

About Lynda Scott Araya

The mycorrhizal network takes its due

Heather McQuillan


In the middle of the bush, having taken a turn too soon back to the campsite and turned again and again, she ended up hopeless-stumbling through the mire.

Spaghnum hummocks hummed with midges, tangle fern tangled at her ankles, hook sedge hooked socks, legs, sleeves, and wrists. Her boots were heavy with bog water and coated by bladderwort. She pleaded for the way back.

A stump stood out from the rest of the trees on the sloping hillside. She panic-fought through clouds of biting midges as water gurgled up from a low table into the hollows her weight had made and then – dry ground and roots of trees exposed, dark-warted fungi nesting, a wood wide web. 

The stump had no leaves, no chloroplast to harvest light yet, she saw new tissue, a scab grown over the wound. Thanks to the root systems of surrounding trees, and the sharing of nutrients, it lived.

She climbed on it to look back at the way she had come. Whispers came turn this way, follow this way, and the warning don’t come this way again.

It was only when she was back on the rough high track, knowing she would come eventually to the campsite, that she looked down and saw her cap, blue and yellow cotton, flapping like a signal flag from the clutches of the hook sedge. It was a fair price to pay for sound advice.

About Heather McQuillan

Family Trees

Jane Shearer


When Chloe brings her family tree home from school, I spit six-inch nails. There everyone is, painstakingly drawn and connected by branches – Mum, Dad, Chloe and Pumpkin the cat. Except I’m not Mum. I’m Marion and I’m not in this picture.

“What sort of place has such an antiquated idea of families?” I ask Dad, aka Stuart. “Chloe’s school is rather old-school,” he says. “No biggie.” However, the tree undermines my equilibrium.

My thoughts churn. If I draw my tree, who are the roots? Mum and Dad who gave me my foundation? Or my birth parents as my genetic heritage. And what sort of line do I draw between my birth parents, given they only met on a single unfortunate occasion? A dotted line? A line of screaming Munch emojis? Which tree branch would include family friend Pamela, intertwined with our lives since my memories began? Where does my best mate Emmy hang, who’s shared my rollercoaster car through decades of life’s bumpy ride?

What I want to draw is a family forest, where trees of different shapes and sizes share roots hidden below the surface and converse through a myriad of mycorrhizae, bacteria and chemical emanations. However, given my lack of artistic talent, I settle for a road map. 

“Chloe, where are your pens?” We draw time – important people in our lives converge and diverge on paths winding through the landscape. Chloe’s a yellow butterfly with wheels and I’m a purple elephant with spots. We laugh.

About Jane Shearer

Dusky, Keith Nunes
Keith Nunes, Dusky

About Keith Nunes


Jeff Taylor


We kids spent many great holidays here. Tree huts, tyre swings. Climbing high as an elephant’s eye. Our old man, scrimping and saving after Mum died to leave us an inheritance.

My share from the will, this shack. Dilapidated, but right by the estuary with a great water view. If it wasn’t for the giant Metrosideros excelsa, that is. Planted out front decades ago by well-meaning but unthinking grandparents, and further nurtured by our parents.

A monstrosity now, completely obscuring the water view, and marked on the district plan by the faceless ones as ‘protected’.

My two sisters have fled indecently with their cash-share inheritances. One-way tickets to different northern continents, one to a villa with cobblestones and olive trees, the other to a condo, golden sands and palm trees. They’ll never be back; they’ve made that plain. I can’t understand how they can simply forget the barbecues, the kayak, swimming in the calm water.

Too isolated, they argued. Off the beaten track. But that’s how I like it and I will never bring myself to sell this place. 

I’ve chosen mid-winter, when there’s likely no trampers or snoops around to call DOC, or the Greens, or any other tree police until it’s too late.

Our grandparents’ and parents’ ashes nurture its roots, but I’ll take the consequences. The past is the past.

With a heavy heart, I pull-start the chainsaw, and it fires with a clatter likely to waken the dead.

About Jeff Taylor


Sherryl Clark


The policeman stops us at the roadblock. “Residents?” He waves us through. We drive slowly, see a few fire-singed trees. At the top gate, we park. In the paddock, the neighbour’s gums have burned, leaving black circles.

In front of us, every tree on our land is a blackened bone. As we walk down the track, dark grey ash puffs around our feet. Nothing is left but tall, charred trunks with singed leaves at the top. No bracken, no undergrowth, no leaf litter. Just unending ash.

A moonscape.

Our neighbour told us our house was still there. I can’t bring myself to believe it.

But then we see it between the coaled tree trunks, like a mirage. Yellow blocks, green roof, solar panels, water tanks that were luckily full. I gape in disbelief. The house really has survived.

I don’t know why I’m so surprised. After we built it, I nicknamed it The Bunker.

Around the house is a circle of green grass, as if the fire has roared through and, at the last minute, slid around the edges. Miraculous. Later, we work out the cool thermal mass of the blocks has somehow kept the fire away. The only thing that burnt was a coir mat which singed the bottom of the back door.

We walk across the moonscape and find another miracle. An echidna scratching in the ash for food. Under there somewhere are ants and grubs. Life goes on. But it will not be the same.

About Sherryl Clark

Searching for a new nest

Gretchen Carroll


It was the first sunny evening since the clocks had changed, so she congratulated herself for the idea of having a picnic under the Jacaranda tree. It was only fish fingers and supermarket pizza, but even that seemed momentous. Maisie was setting out the rug and plates, Milo was screaming because he couldn’t have the iPad.  

“We’ll see you outside.” 


With the food cooling on the rug, she and Maisie gave him five minutes, counting down on Maisie’s watch. At 4:59 Milo appeared, sniffing. 

“We had a BBQ at Dad’s last night,” he said pointedly. 

They heard a ‘yoddle yoddle’ in the jacaranda and looked up. “A magpie!” Maisie was climbing up before she could be stopped. 

“It’ll peck my eyes out!” Milo yelled.   

“Come down Maisie,” she said, as Milo pulled her towards the carport. There they watched the magpie and Maisie. Maisie was sitting on her ‘lookout’ branch. The magpie walked around the picnic mat but wasn’t interested in the food. It climbed into one of the boxes Maisie had brought outside, filled with her knick-knacks. Maisie giggled.  

“Do something!” Milo yanked on her sleeve.  

“I don’t know what to do,” she said, a familiar feeling.  

The magpie strutted around the grass and then flew off.  

“That was so cool!” yelled Maisie.  

“Yeah, it was,” said Milo quietly.  

She ushered him back to the mat. “I think magpies do that when they’re looking for a new home.” 

The three of them ate in contented silence.  

About Gretchen Carroll

Liana Ashenden, Lemons 4
Liana Ashenden, Lemons 4

About Liana Ashenden


Sue Barker


Soon we’ll know, the X-ray – says the nurse. Probably a green-stick fracture. Like young tree limbs bend, partially split, says the registrar smiling. She winces, cradling her boy. Two-year-olds heal so fast, he’ll bounce back. Tree? says the boy.

Bounce. No mention about any bouncing from the babysitter. He’s sleeping. I’m off. Back next month. She’ll see to her soon…but she’s promised the boy the trip north to the giant tree. His current obsession – trees.

She takes his hand as they turn onto the boardwalk, thick bush giving way to a wall of tree. The toddler’s mouth forms an O as he looks up the dappled trunk, through whorls of thorny leaves and epiphytes to tiny patches of blue sky. Big! Up to the sky! He sees a branch splitting away from the trunk, half off, the branch browning, gum oozing around the wound. He frowns, holding his white arm cast with his other hand, turns to his mum and points to the shedding branch. “Ouchie?” His mum nods. “Better soon?”

The mother smiles. “Soon.”

About Sue Barker

Gumfield Wahine, Maybe Houhora Way

Alex Reece Abbott


Woman with shovel and gum spear by A. Northwood

Woman with shovel and gum spear by A. Northwood

Hine poses, probably north of the 38th parallel.
Aloof. Weatherworn.
Gumdigger yarns…always stubborn, sinewy blokes in rope-tied trousers.
But wahine and mokopuna dig too.
Dig swamp trenches, wade into water-filled potholes.
Lucky spear-gum-hook.
New skelton, blade honed.
Hine ties her flour-bag pouch for finds around her waist.

Uncertain, dig. Learning to tell living-roots-stumps-buried-wood from kiwi amber.
That rush, bringing buried treasure to the surface.
Lunch. Brew a screw of tea. Cold kūmara, chunk of rēwena.
Move. Field to field. Set up again.
Back-breaking yakka, a young ‘un’s game.
Hurdy-gurdy, wash.

Wet days. Nights perched over a guttering candle in her make-do nīkau whare, jackknife scraping.
dirt-chalk rind.
Reveal dust…
or a chip.
A high-grade lump of prized liquid gold.

The Babylon grub-staker weighs her haul, exchanging her fossil gum for supplies. Hine weaves her fine parawai from blithe hope. To make tucker this time. To break the relentless cycle… prod-dig-cash-in-buy-supplies-get-energy-to-dig…dreams of buying her land.

Hine poses. Past Arthur the photographer, past the scrubby scorched mānuka stumps on the bleak, muddy plateau, she sees low-lying hills, her better, drier, winter gumland stake. The centipede in her pocket, entombed in ancient, gluey resin, reminds her of all that’s trapped. All that’s gone. Kapia, balm for the wounds of gentle giants, their golden tears, a thousand years in the making.

Just ten per cent of Tane’s kauri live now.

Kill them and who will hold earth and sky apart to let the light come in?

Author note:
Once, kauri forests covered most of Northland. During the last five decades of the nineteenth century, the main export from Auckland province was not gold or wool, or even kauri timber, it was kapia, kauri gum.

About Alex Reece Abbott

Gail Ingram, Mikimiki, , Coprosma propinqua
Gail Ingram, Mikimiki, Coprosma propinqua

About Gail Ingram


Sandra Arnold


She first started seeing faces in her mother’s Italian walnut wardrobe.

Just your imagination, her mother said.

But they smile at me, she said.

An over-active imagination, her mother said. Don’t tell anyone.

Then she saw faces in the cracks in the walls.

Then in the bark of trees.

Then in the pavements.

Then in the schoolyard.

In her last year at primary school, she saw faces in the teacher’s cupboard where she kept her leather strap.

Each time the strap cut into her hand she saw the faces wink at her.

Tell us what you want us to do, they whispered.

So she did.

When the teacher turned the strap on herself someone said they should go and get the Headmaster.

Others told him to shut up.

The whole class watched in silence.

The teacher threw the strap on the floor and ran out of the classroom.

Then they cheered.

About Sandra Arnold

Return to the Forest

Lynley Soper


This would be her last flight across the strait. She knew it in every sweep of her wings, and every surge of the wind that carried her. 

Her mate flew close, the beat of his wing-fall as familiar as her own. It was a long flight for Kererū but her last nest would be in the place of her own hatching.

They flew low over the coastline, through the salt-spray of waves breaking over rock, coming to rest briefly in a grove of sentinel Pōhutukawa, its crimson-tipped boughs dipping beneath their weight.

Bone-deep memory drew her on again, up the wind-skimmed harbour toward the city.

It was not as she remembered. Not the harsh place of concrete and steel and deafening noise and toxic fumes, where they had gone hungry and their chicks had perished.


Now, the forest flowed down the hillsides, over and between the buildings, a river of living green to the water’s edge. Trees, once rare, spindly things, now flourished on the roof spaces and in the parks and the streets.

She lands on a high rooftop amidst tawa, pūriri and kōwhai, a mat of soft grasses beneath her toes. And far below, she sees how the people tread softly in this new city.

Her mate calls. He has laid the first sticks, high in the branches of a fine kahikatea, amidst the chime and screech and whistle of korimako, kākā and tūī and the whole tumultuous chorus of the forest.

About Lynley Soper

Whakarewa - In Motion' by Moata McNamara
Moata McNamara, Whakarewa – In Motion

About Moata McNamara

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