When this old world starts getting me down and people are just too much for me to face, I climb my way down into the rich, fetid stink of a mangrove creek and all my cares just drift right into space. For weeks and weeks now I've been wanting to step into the creek near my house in wet, West Auckland and fish out rubbish, get it looking nice and clean and leave it in the state that nature intended – a black quicksand, sulphuric and kind of nightmarish. God, I love mangroves.
A break in my terribly busy schedule presented itself the other day. I wasted no time. Actually I lay down and tried to take a nap. Things have been a bit stressful lately and sometimes all I can do is nothing. But I couldn't sleep, just lay there thinking things over, which is to say, boring myself senseless.
So I bounded out of bed, stepped into a pair of gumboots and an old pair of pants, and headed out the door with a black plastic rubbish bag. I picked up litter as I walked along the street. It's my routine. I'm probably known as That Crazy Litter Guy in my neighbourhood. I bent down and pulled out a plastic bag wedged into a drain; an elderly couple were watching from their kitchen.
"Look. There he is. Crazy Litter Guy."
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"He's harmless. Pass your cup."
"Is he, though? Look. He's heading down to the mangroves. Who does that?"
The street runs alongside the edge of a sports field. It's got a carpark and a Sea Scouts hall with two doors, both painted red. Pine trees line the field and below it there's Henderson Creek, passing through a low, dense swamp. Every time I walk past the trees and down the bank towards the mangroves I experience a rare kind of thrill, an electric charge. It feels like I'm entering a magical kingdom made of black water and mud.
It feels like home. All my cares just drift right into the space occupied by the mesmerising grey-green light of mangrovia. It's where I belong, mucking around in a dark underground, happy in a lost forest. Happy to pick up rubbish – cans, bottles, wrappers, the usual. I've been cleaning up mangrove creeks for years and it probably doesn't make any difference, I take junk out, people throw junk back in, but it brings me peace and every now and then I'll see a white-faced heron or a kingfisher. Nice.
But when I walked past the trees towards the creek the other day, the first thing I saw was a huge pile of junk mail. Someone had dumped it there and it'd scattered down the hillside, hundreds of leaflets, maybe 1000. They were mostly for Kmart and KFC – 20 nuggets for $10, which is a pretty good deal. I sighed, and got to work. It took about 30, 40 minutes and three trips to bag them and take them up to the carpark and stuff them inside or beside a council bin.
Back home, I looked up the companies who do junk mail. I got straight through to Phil McDonald from Admedia ("Print Media Distribution Specialists") and sent him details of the exact location, as well as six photos. He wrote back, "Thank you for this - that is NOT a good look! P.S. I read your various columns in the Herald regularly - keeping writing, I still love the newspaper!" Cheers, Phil. But Admedia weren't responsible for the dumping. The route was out of their area. Phil forwarded the photos to Ovato, the other junk mail distribution agency; the dumping was on their patch. I read the claim on their website with interest: "Our impact on the environment is incredibly important to us." I spoke to a Dana, who put me on to a Vicki, who put me on to a Jenny. Maybe one of them will identify the culprit and do something about it.
I found time after picking up the leaflets to wander through the mangroves and sit a while by the creek. The tide was going out. It wasn't running very fast. I couldn't hear a sound. I didn't have a thought in my head. Crazy Litter Guy, at rest.