Katabasis

May 22, 2022

As a writing discipline, this journal is supposed to be composed of short articles presenting impressions of places, plants, geology and architecture. Bearing this in mind (and the benefits of brevity), a descent into research about the Ancient Greek terms of ‘katabasis’ and ‘anabasis’ seems somewhat counter-productive.

Yet here I find myself; reading about Ancient Greek notions of the descent into the Underworld, and the role of these words within military discourse.

The starting point for all of this is very simple, and pertains to the core meaning of ‘katabasis’, which describes a descent. In the case of the remarkable basin shown within this journal article, it is katabatic winds that march down into this frost hollow on a regular basis – thereby creating an unusual set of conditions for plant growth.

Frost hollows in many parts of the country are largely defined by frequent heavy ‘editing’ from katabatic winds. As cold air drains down the adjoining slopes, an inversion of the conventional treeline occurs, whereby the air within the basin is significantly colder than the air above it.

This inhibits the establishment of forest, making Moa Park (which is situated in the inland hills of Abel Tasman National Park) an ‘island’ of low vegetation in the midst of its forested surroundings. Red tussock is the dominant species over much of its area, whilst bog pine (Halocarpus bidwillii) is another major component of the vegetation (forming beautiful simple patterns within the mantle of red tussock – as shown at the top of this journal entry).

On the margins of Moa Park, the forest edge is ‘sealed’ by dense scrub that is dominated in parts by a highly attractive native tree daisy, Olearia lacunosa (pictured above, right, emerging from bog pine in a comparatively open position). I have admired this species before in forest leading up towards the treeline at Mt Arthur, where its peeling, mahogany-coloured bark illuminates the forest edge.

As we ascended the ridgeline that drops over to Moa Park, our eyes were drawn towards the ground as much as the forest around us. I last walked through this landscape in January (having looked at riverine ecosystems in a different part of Abel Tasman), and in the intervening time, the ridgeline track had turned into a watery network of tree roots, rivulets and pools – that looks like it has sprung as much from the imagination as the natural world.