There is an unwritten law that says that the height of your gumboot will never be quite high enough for the job you want it to do. I thought of this recently as I found myself standing in a swampy drain watching muddy water oozing over the top of my boot. It wasn't how I'd intended to spend a crisp Saturday morning.
I'd agreed to help plant trees for the Otamatea Harbour Care Society, a volunteer organisation devoted to riparian planting to help improve the water quality of the massive and magnificent Kaipara Harbour.
As I sank deeper into the mud around 40 volunteers and a frisky terrier were all busily planting things along a shallow waterway. This was fortunate, as I didn't really want them to notice me stuck in a swamp, not planting anything.
The day was essentially a good old-fashioned New Zealand Working Bee. Seedlings propagated a year ago by volunteers, being planted by yet more volunteers, all of whom seemed to be having a great time.
The people gathered alongside the creek on a farm outside Maungaturoto were a veritable United Nations of accents. The sounds of Americans, various Europeans, South Africans, and a range of New Zealandisms drifted over the green pastures of the dairy farm where the gathering happened.
There were people new to the district, people operating similar programmes in other areas, and assorted locals including a man who had lived there his entire 60-something-odd years.
What motivates folk to this kind of altruism?
Studies suggest that volunteers live longer and remain healthier. Although maybe they've simply lived longer and are healthier anyway, and volunteering just helps fill the time. I'm not sure any of those gathered here were thinking that. They just wanted to make a difference.
New Zealand National Volunteer Week ran from June 2127. That's not a week where people are forced to volunteer for the National party, although don't give them any ideas or it may become policy.
Countless organisations run on the sweat and the goodwill of the volunteer. You can find them in museums and hospices and soup kitchens and at A&P shows and op shops. Others build houses for the homeless, organise children's sport or restore steam locomotives.
The great thing about volunteering is that you don't even need to be part of a group. You can simply pick up a little litter as you walk along and place it in the bin.
On this occasion Mark, the stalwart organiser, had roped me in after hearing me say I'd plant trees to offset air miles. He had a lot of trees that needed planting. However given the distance I drove to get there I'm not sure I'm in credit yet.
The end result: around 1600 trees and flaxes planted over a 500-metre stretch, several gumboots filled, friendships formed, plans hatched, and awareness raised.
As I left a local handed me two smoked mullet from the Kaipara wrapped in newspaper as a gift. It was a delicious reminder of why we were all there.
But with the Kaipara having a shoreline of around 800 kilometres, and a catchment of around 6500 square kilometres, it's also a mammoth and costly task. But every metre done is a meter less.
They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is today. That may well be true, but I can tell you that the best time to buy a pair of taller gumboots was yesterday. Then you can put them on, and volunteer. It's the Kiwi way.