I was downright angry. They want me to do what? Unpack the whole suitcase that I had crammed every nook and corner full at 5AM this morning, so they can look at my hiking boots? You’ve got to be kidding. It’s all so painstakingly organized and ready to access, and the boots are at the very bottom. I slammed my suitcase on the counter and began to rip stuff out of it.
In Customs, I had been pulled out of the arrival line at my moment of highest anticipation – finally, I’m in New Zealand – and ordered, albeit politely, to unpack a month’s worth of clothing and gear? All because I was honest when I filled out the dang form?
Yes, I had been hiking in a wilderness area the past six months, along a feeder stream to the Buffalo River just above Ponca. Yes, they do have a bunch of tragically located pigs on the Buffalo these days, that I hope and pray will be gone soon, but I was no where near them.
I had checked “NO” on all of the other silly questions but had to tell the truth on that one.
An official took my boots, stuff strewn all over the counter, and carefully checked the soles. They were a bit scruffy. She shook her head, pointed to one dirt patch and disappeared for a while. When she returned, my boots were in a plastic bag and had obviously been treated. She pulled out a sheet of paper and pointed to a photo of some microscopic yellow bugs, indicating that’s what they were looking for.
I never did learn if she found any, or if we even have such critters in the Ozarks. What I did figure out after sampling the incredible range of clean waters in New Zealand, is that they take protecting them very seriously. And, that I was ashamed of my “ugly American” performance in the face of such precaution. Bully for New Zealanders.
I later discovered first hand one of the reasons for their precaution. On the Routeburn Track wilderness hike I described last post, our guide pointed out one stream we crossed that was not so pristine as the rest. Really not that far from where I had so victoriously sampled fresh water from a similarly sized creek.
“Didymo,” he said. Rock Snot. Algae. Ugly. Contaminated. Grows naturally in cold, low nutrient, high clarity streams. “Spread by hiking boots,” he added. Didymo, in the heart of paradise. An isolated problem, but a threat to the rest.
In every B&B we stayed, hosts expressed concerns about their water when I raised the question. Without exception.
Jonathan, a retired New Zealand Department of Conservation official living in Franz Joseph, observed that while the sheep population has declined from 60,000,000 head to 25,000,000 over a relatively short period of time because of the world wide decline in demand for wool, there are now 5,000,000 cows, mostly dairy but expanding beef herds, plying the landscape. He referred me to the New Zealand Fish and Game Website for more information on the dairy industry, while noting that some water supplies in the eastern part of the southern island, which is more suitable for large scale agriculture, had become polluted. The website, which he termed the NGO protecting rivers and lakes, is packed with information, both in-country and global. Jonathan is concerned about all New Zealand waters.
So are Nigel in Kaikoura, Renee and Geoff in Arthur’s Pass, Brian in Hotikita, John in Te Anau, and Tom in Queensland.
Renee and Geoff contacted me just this week to recommend Dr. Mike Joy’s book Polluted Inheritance, New Zealand’s Freshwater Crisis. It is on order.
Tom is the guide who both fed us fresh creek water and pointed out the Didymo. His colleague Tess countered with the report that her mother, who works for the Department of Industries, is completing a study for the government about enacting new regulations on the agricultural sector. I’m well aware that regulations and the Ozarks don’t often mix, but neither do fouled water and the Ozarks. She added that her mother is spending extensive time with livestock farmers and generally finding them willing to discuss what can be done to protect the waters of New Zealand. There is hope in that, if not lessons for us.
While this is all anecdotal, the continuity of thought and concern lend credibility.
Didymo. Doesn’t it have a nice ring to it? A new word with ominous undertones.
I will never complain about getting my hiking boots checked again.
COMING NEXT, MARCH 31, 2019: LIFE IS A RIVER – A BEND BEYOND
Attend Todd’s debut presentation of Life Is A River – A Bend Beyond, Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at 7 p.m. at The Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Avenue, in Springfield, Missouri.