Conservation is a huge “hobby” in New Zealand because New Zealanders are proud of everything uniquely Kiwi, from their little flightless bird to the All Blacks to Maori culture, etc, so this was a fun project to participate in. And the New Zealand bush is truly unique. Did you know that the last living dinosaur, the Tuatara, lives in New Zealand? Most people mistake Tuataras for lizards, but they “are part of a distinct lineage, the order Rhynchocephalia” which had its heyday some 200 million years ago (Wikipedia.com). New Zealand is also home to Kakapos, the world’s only flightless parrot, Kauri trees, which can live for 1,500 years but are quickly dying off because of disease and deforestation, and many others. The famous Kiwi birds are really just the tip of the iceberg.
I also became particularly passionate about this project because my class at ANI is focusing their current Inquiry work on “Sharing the Planet” and managing the relationship between humans and the natural world. And Service Learning requirements aside, I personally believe it to be a humanitarian obligation to do something to make the world a better place, even if it is just pulling weeds for a weekend. It feels goof to "walk the talk".
Of course, highfalutin ideals aside, "extreme weeding" just sounds like fun, right? I mean, anything "extreme" is just better than the normal version. Extreme white water rafting, extreme trampolining, extreme diets. Ok, maybe not the last one, but no one would argue that "extreme weeding" sounds like a grand ol' time.
It ended up being a lot like some archaeology survey work I’ve done, actually. A team of 12 people or so lined up about ten meters apart, took a bearing on the compass, and attempted to walk in a straight line while keeping a lookout for weeds (specifically Moth Plant, a vine that strangles native trees). This sounds quite easy.
Walking in a straight line is easy in a city or a field. It’s a bit trickier when you’re climbing up a dormant volcano that is completely covered in vegetation. If there’s a dense stand of trees, or a bush, or a really steep bit of land, you don’t do the sensible thing and walk around. You charge right in, clambering over roots, crawling on all fours, getting branches in your hair and stickers in your shoes, and generally finding or making your way as best you can.
Of course, it’s actually impossible to go straight all the time, so you’ve got to keep an eye on your teammates and gauge off of them which direction you’re supposed to be going. But since only 3 people have compasses, everybody inevitably gets spread out or bunched together. Your neighbor, just out of sight, may stop to take care of an infestation and, unknowing, you continue on. Then you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, hoping you’re going the right direction and assuming you’ll run into your people at the top of the mountain because you can kind of hear their voices off in the distance. Meanwhile, you have to do your job and look for one specific kind of plant amid hundreds of others. My prediction, therefore, was absolutely right; it was fun!
Although we spent large parts of the day spread out in a line, talking was limited. But New Zealanders as a rule are a friendly, easy-going bunch who are not difficult to strike up a conversation with. And there is something about working outside, and about participating in voluntary work for a cause you believe in, that builds camaraderie. We didn’t really need to talk to know we were on the same page. They did rather fit the profile, similar to many outdoorsy conservation and archaeologist types I have known and loved back home, of the laid-back, down to earth Kiwi, comfortable working on the land, cracking some raunchy jokes along the way, and enjoying a nice barbecue after the work was done.