12/3 A Lesson in Compassion

Rat Creek to Waitomo Walkway

23 k

The one nice thing about camping down in a corner of the forest where the sun doesn’t reach is: it is very easy to sleep in.

I awake late and surprisingly rested. I heard the rat rustling several times last night, but each time I woke up, I shined my headlamp around and couldn’t see it. There doesn’t appear to be any damage to the tent or any gear. Whew. I crawl out to go pee. When I return, the rat is under the vestibule, cozied up to my shoes. “Wha!”

“He’s been there the whole time,” Prana says. This doesn’t make sense- I’m sure I would have seen him as I got up. I remove my shoes and socks (I can’t believe he’s nestled into those) and stove and stuff sack from around the rat. He very very feebly takes one step forward, but doesn’t really move. Prana starts nudging him gently with our water filter. “Don’t use that,” I say. I’m still more than half convinced it has an infection we are going to catch from it.

“Then use your sit pad,” Prana instructs. I nudge the rat with the piece of foam, trying to urge him away. I nudge harder. For some reason, even though it can barely move, I am frightened that it is going to suddenly snap, fed up with being shooed around, and become aggressive. I nudge it harder, too hard, and he feebly does a log roll and struggles back to his feet.

“You’re being too rough,” Prana chides, correctly. “I’ll do it.” He gets out and cradles the rat in his sit pad, trying to pick him up without touching him. He finally uses his hand to support him for the ride, and the rat is completely docile. There is even, I would say, a look of peace, or maybe relief, on his furry little face. “See, he’s not going to hurt anyone,” says Prana. “He’s just old and on his way out. He was under the tent floor, cuddled against your sleeping pad. He was probably there all night, able to be somewhat comfortable.”

The fact that the rat had trusted enough to sleep next to me all night, and then I had returned that by roughing him up out of an inexplicable and irrational fear, completely undoes me. I hang my head and weep with remorse for my inadequacies.

Prana gently sets the rat at the edge of the forest, where he remains for the rest of the morning. We fix breki and pack up, and when he still is in the same spot, Prana delicately moves him back into the forest, to a comfortable and tucked in final resting place among the plants.

I am the last one in line, still feeling low, still feeling woeful. Walking soothes many things, and so, I walk.

A few more rounds of tears and I start to feel better. The trail is along the outside of a fence line, and the crackling dry ferns are just high enough to cause an oven effect of no air movement and reflected heat. After more than an hour of this I use my Jedi thoughts and my text machine to alert Prana to the imminent need for lunch. The next turn drops me into shady forest, where he is waiting. I wonder which method worked! We are watched over by a heard of wild goats, but none can be coaxed to join us.

From here the trail switchbacks down, crosses a huge inviting creek, and then starts a curious alternation on the climb up to Waitomo. It interchanges between sandy tread in the sun, flanked by head high manuka for some more of that oven effect, and beautiful, level, shady, cool walking in the forest. The contrast in comfort is incredible. Once we reach the gravel road, it’s a quick few k to the edge of town. We inquire at the Tomo Hut about accommodations, but decide to head further into the village for the night.

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