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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Trees, Sheep, and Time in New Zealand

It may seem like an odd title, but I planted 5,000 trees, saw around ten thousand of the (purported) 45 million sheep, and had no doubts whatsoever that I was (after twenty hours of flights, thirty hours of flight delays, and fifty hours of layovers) in New Zealand. Also, a small warning: from here on, I refer to anything New Zealand as Kiwi. And, a second small warning for you, should you visit New Zealand, what you eat is kiwi fruit. Not kiwi.

Kiwi grass - and you'll excuse me if I get this out of the way now - is green. And not the Texas-brown sort of green that I see after the occasional rainy week we get. Lush, wavy, and undeniably green. In fact, here's a picture:

You may also notice that I've chosen a picture that includes a number of sheep (actually, it's hard to find a picture without sheep). The sheep stick in my mind for two reasons: there are more sheep than people in New Zealand by a factor of about ten-point-two, and I've now heard more sheep jokes than knock-knock jokes (How do Kiwis find sheep in long grass? Quite well, actually.) I've even heard more than a few sheep knock-knock jokes.

Now, the conservation group I was with consisted of me, three Brits, and a Australian team leader. Our job was to plant around 5,000 trees to (re)create the natural environment and to build a wildlife corridor - this also means that the trees I planted are protected against damage by Kiwi federal law, forever. I definitely plan to return to New Zealand by means of Google Earth in about ten years to check on my trees. I have no doubts that the kauri trees will be massive. We also sanded and restored a small bit of a historic Portuguese tram that had been lovingly shipped all the way from Colorado, and to pot a number of tiny, ant-ridden plants for future conservation purposes on the volcanic island of Motutapu.

So, Andy, Andrew, Suzie and I dug holes, fertilized, and planted trees for about two weeks. And it was awesome. Besides the free 'Shoveling Today' magazine you get (I'm making this bit up), were able to help restore the original, natural environment in one of the last places we have the chance to do so. Some of the other work done by volunteers was focused on restoring native kiwi habitats to the islands by moving or eliminating the rat and stoat populations. Of course, I was also able to make some great friends, share music, learn an awful lot about the native flora and fauna, watch the truly bizarre Auckland AltTV channel, ride a horse over miles of empty beachfront with a Maori guide, learn about ancient and contemporary Maori culture, gape at astonishing vistas along the coast, and ride boats out around in the beautiful bays.

But I still wish I could have arrived a few weeks sooner: someone had the job of fitting hedgehogs with tiny radio collars.