Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Pohutukawa Tree: The Story of a New Zealand Ghost

“Did you see that shadow pass by the cave?” eight-year-old Amelia Brown whispered, pulling on her father’s jacket. 

“Oh, you’re probably imagining that you saw the warrior Tawhaki,” her father explained, looking out over the coast. “I know you’ve been so sad since your mom died. I’m so glad that we got to spend the day together by the ocean.”

Amelia teared up, wiping her nose on his jacket sleeve. “I miss Mom so much,” she cried. “Why did she leave us?”

The wind blew hard against the Pohutukawa tree that clung to the cliff of Cape Reinga in New Zealand. Caves wrapped around the cliff, where it is said that people visited before they passed into the spirit world to heaven. 

“Let me tell you a story,” her father quipped, taking his daughter’s hand, and squinting to see if he could find Tawhaki.

“I love stories, Papa,” she stated. “I’m still trying to find where Tawhaki’s shadow went. If I find him, I’ll tell you.”

“Until then, I’ll share with you his legend,” her father explained. “As the story goes, this Pohutukawa tree emerged from the cliff of Cape Reinga in New Zealand on Christmas Eve many years ago. Its burning red flowers are said to symbolize the blood of a warrior who died attempting to avenge his father’s death. His name was Tawhaki.”

“Why doesn’t everyone know about him?” his curious daughter wondered.

“I’m not sure, honey, but supposedly the warrior tried to get help in heaven on his mission, and then he fell to earth, causing the red flowers to bloom. He still roams the earth, trying to avenge his father’s death. He hates injustice and secretly tries to bring justice to those in need of it. Rumor has it that he also helps people on their journeys from earth to heaven through the caves near the cliff. Now, I bet you thought it was just a tree?” her father clarified. “Sometimes, I think it still might just be a tree.”

“I always knew there was something special about the tree because it glowed,” she told him. “Only since Mother died last summer have I seen the shadow of the warrior. I wasn’t sure where he came from, but he seems to follow me.”

“Really?” her father inquired. “You didn’t wander into the caves, did you? I told you not to go inside those old things. The legend of Tawhaki is really just a lot of folklore . . . and it makes you feel better for a while.”

“I thought I might talk to Mother one last time,” Amelia cried. “I dreamed I met her in the caves by the tree.”

“Well, did you find her there?” Mr. Brown asked, almost wishing he hadn’t asked his grieving daughter the question.

“No, I just saw the shadow of a man who has followed me,” Amelia giggled. “Did you see him?”

“I didn’t see him tonight, but he’s said to exist,” Mr. Brown admitted. “No one knows why your mother passed away so suddenly. If Tawhaki exists, he is probably trying to avenge her death, like the death of his father. According to the myth, he fights to bring justice.”

“Oh, I just saw him again, next to the tree,” Amelia gasped, pointing. “How could you miss him?”

“If you want to, we could walk through the caves one last time, but then that’s enough,” Mr. Brown decided. 

“I would like that,” Amelia agreed, secretly seeing a woman that looked like her mother at the mouth of the caves.

Amelia and her father walked into the heart of the caves, using the flashlight from her bag to light their way. As they descended deeper into the caves, Amelia came face to face with the spirit of her mother. Tears filled her eyes, and she looked at her father, wondering if he was able to see her mother. Realizing that he could not, she said nothing. 

“Now, did we find your mother in these caves?” her father asked, as Amelia watched the spirit of her mother bend over and kiss her cheek. “I don’t see her anywhere!”

The kiss burned like fire, and Amelia was sure it was real. Then, her mother did the same to Amelia’s father, but he must have not felt the fire on his cheek. Amelia’s mother slowly took off her diamond wedding ring and slipped it into Amelia’s hand. 

“Keep this for me, Amelia. I love you,” her mother said, disappearing into the cave. 

“I love you,” Amelia whispered. “I’ll love you forever.”

“Please, honey, just stay out of the caves from now on,” Mr. Brown insisted, unable to see Amelia’s teary eyes in the dark. “Now, let’s cut some of the red flowers from the tree. We’ll put them by your bedside, but we should be getting home for the night.”

“At least there might be someone looking out for me, so I’m not alone without Mom,” Amelia told her dad, hugging him.

She decided that telling him what she just saw might not help him at all, but it helped her more than she could say. Her mother’s wedding ring hid deep in her pocket, although it was too big to fit on any of her fingers.

“I’m looking out for you!” Mr. Brown explained. “Both of us could use the help of Tawhaki, but I love you more than he does.” 

The wind blew hard, and the Pohutukawa tree shook, as a shadow fell from its branches, following the Browns back to their house. 

“If heaven could only come to earth,” the shadow called into the night sky.


Copyright 2021 Jennifer Waters 

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