As she wanders amidst the giant–and endangered–kauri trees in a New Zealand forest, Laura Pritchett wrestles with the questions that matter most, in her essay “Dieback, Beetlekill,” from the 2021 issue of Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry:

photos by Laura Pritchett

“The Kauri tree in front of me is 700 years old, only a teenager, a huge broccoli floret that skyrockets above all the tumble of bizarre greenery of this New Zealand forest. The tree looks monstrously healthy, though the KAURI DIEBACK signs and gates warn me otherwise. When I stop to scrub and spray my shoes, as required before entering most hikes around here, I read about the fungus that is killing these trees, spread by only a pinhead-sized amount of dirt.

I scrub more, spray more, and it occurs to me that this required stop feels like a gong. A mindfulness reminder. A call to be aware of my presence and the effect I unknowingly have on all around me. A hike is no longer just a hike, it’s a time to reflect on the power of small-but-pervasive things, such as the fact that something so miniscule can take out such enormous and old trees.”

” …It feels like a pervasive fungus is creeping, poisoning, spreading—the fungus of economies and social inequalities that lead to climate change and camps where children are separated from mothers. All I know is that this is an important time. A time of upheaval, of questioning our assumptions, of questioning our values. The question is: How can we scrub?”

“…I don’t know what will happen to these trees, and I don’t know how to stop beetlekill, and I don’t know how to shelter all the children who need sheltering. But I do know we are living in an important time, and that I can keep trying, metaphorically, to spray my shoes. When I finish my hike, I stop to scrub and disinfect, taking extra care to do it well, because, well, that is what I can do. I look up the mountain and thank the forest, ask it for one further gift, which is the gift of spunk and energy, which is the fungus we need.”

Excerpts from Laura Pritchett’s essay “Dieback, Beetlekill,” in the 2021 issue of Deep Wild Journal. Deep Wild is the home for creative work inspired by journeys to places where there are no roads. To learn more, and to order your copy, visit

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