Singing Spring in the Pacific Northwest and New Zealand

Spring in West Marin — and the Pacific Northwest in general — always meant the return of Swainson’s Thrush singing their hearts out:

One of the things about moving a significant distance from the plants and animals I’m so familiar with is that I am also a long way from the kind knowing that is only possible when one has lived somewhere for a long time. Like any reunion with rarely-seen old friends, I was both thrilled to hear these boisterous birds in both British Columbia and Washington State during our trip in July, and a bit sad to recognize just how much I miss them.

Given the record number of rain days in Auckland this Spring, I haven’t been outside to get amongst the few seasonal markers I do remember: new lambs at nearby Cornwall Park, the magnolias at the Auckland Botanical Garden. So it’s been a joy to hear one from the relative comfort of our living room! And one that reminds me so much of the Swainson’s Thrush:

We started hearing them a few weeks ago and assumed it was the fantails (pīwakawaka in te reo Māori) we started seeing at the same time, but turns out it’s the grey warbler… which has so many names in te reo I’m not sure which to commit to memory.

Perhaps one day these birds too will be known to me as old friends.


Tūrangawaewae: the place where you belong

When does one fully belong to a place?

I first learned the word / concept of tūrangawaewae during a lesson in Māori pronunciation at work. The colleague who offered the class described tūrangawaewae as the place where you feel like you belong, or your spiritual home, regardless of where you are actually from.

The Māori Dictionary defines tūrangawaewae as follows:

domicile, standing, place where one has the right to stand – place where one has rights of residence and belonging through kinship and whakapapa.

Also from the Māori Dictionary (and all these links contain recordings of the words so you can hear how they sound), here are the definitions of the two parts of the word:

tūranga: stand, position, situation, site, foundation, stance

waewae: leg, foot, or footprint

Also important:

whakapapa: genealogy, genealogical table, lineage, descent. Reciting whakapapa was, and is, an important skill and reflected the importance of genealogies in Māori society in terms of leadership, land and fishing rights, kinship and status. It is central to all Māori institutions.

What I like about my colleague’s explanation of tūrangawaewae  Continue reading “Tūrangawaewae: the place where you belong”

Te reo Māori lesson 1: it’s not pronounced “may-OR-ee”

Not into a long read? Click here (and then on the little speaker icon) to listen to a Māori speaker pronounce the word Māori correctly.


It feels important to preface this essay by saying that as inquisitive as I have been since moving here, I still have a very limited understanding of the complex and interwoven effects of colonization, the Waitangi Treaty, race relations, and increasing rates of immigration on the many different people who live here in New Zealand. I share what little I’ve gathered below not out of any sense of authority, but out a belief that comparing notes and having open conversations about these issues is one way to pay respect to the people who were here before I arrived.

The history of colonization here in New Zealand Aotearoa included, as it did in so many places, a prohibition on the local Māori language (also known as te reo Māori, which translates to “the Māori language”), complete with punishments for those who dared to speak it. Te reo Māori might have disappeared completely had it not been for the language revival efforts of Māori leaders in the eighties.

Knowing this, and as someone who fully inhabits the world of words / language / metaphor, I’d like to do justice to te reo Māori as a way to honor the culture and the people who lived the longest in this place I now call home. And so I have very much appreciated the opportunity to pick up a bit of this language at work, and in particular, from my boss Pat, a proud Māori who regularly mixes Māori words in with English when he speaks.

At first, our relationship around te reo Māori consisted of him relentlessly correcting my attempts at proper pronunciation. Continue reading “Te reo Māori lesson 1: it’s not pronounced “may-OR-ee””