There’s a place about a twenty minute drive from where I live called the Pekapeka Wetlands. It’s a low-lying area just off the side of the two-laned State Highway. That’s right, I said two-laned. What’s considered a highway in New Zealand–the major thoroughfare that takes you from one end of the country to the other, would be considered little more than a country road in North America or Europe.
I’ve never actually given much thought to wetlands. I think of swamps in Louisiana or the Florida Everglades. I think of gators and leeches and stench. I think of pond scum. But wetlands, as it turns out, play a vital role in our ecosystem. (Who knew?) Which is why it’s startling to hear that in the last hundred years, fifty percent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared. In New Zealand, that percentage is a whopping ninety. This is because, back in the early 1900s, the European settlers used the wetlands as dumping grounds. The inaccessible, soggy land could not be built upon or worked, so it became a wasteland, a dump. It was a place where the rubble went from demolished buildings.
Pekapeka is part of a nation-wide effort to restore life back to the wetland areas. It’s a ten-year project, admirably paid for by people’s hard earned tax dollars. What’s fascinating about the restoration project is that the rubble that was dumped there has stayed there. Steel rebar, mortared bricks, rocks and such are permanent fixtures of the wetlands. The old hotel that was disposed of after it was destroyed in the early 1900s has not been removed in the process of the restoration. They’ve left it right where it was, which makes pretty good sense seeing how it’s part of the history of the place. There’s even an old leather shoe dangling out from the piled-up junk.
I must admit; I like the idea of layering, even if what’s layered doesn’t originally belong. In fact, I think there’s a powerful metaphor there. We all have parts of ourselves we think of as unsuitable or sightly–whether on a physical level or with regard to past “failures” or “mistakes.” But the thing is, those are the very things that make us up, like it or not. It’s there, part of who we are. The stuff that accumulates along the way, if integrated properly, eventually only serves to enrich the whole.
I quite like the old random shoe. And, the ducks don’t seem to mind at all.
*Pekapeka is Maori and it can be a bat; it can be a toy windmill made of flax leaf; it can be a greenstone ornament; the lateral arm of a fish spreader; or the lateral arm of a catching spear. It can be a hook for hanging a spear, or a plant; or a plait of flax string…or a carpet shark…or a starfish.