Krista’s recycling bin was smoking. She wondered what could have set fire to it after the collection truck had battered its hooligan way down the road.
As she walked up her gravelled driveway, the moment of concern turned to wonder at the surprises of nature. Morning sun had warmed dew on the bin, softening the harsh lines of plastic with a rising mist.
Across the road, Daniel Beringer was retrieving a bin from the end of his neatly paved driveway. She was surprised that he didn’t have his gardener or house maid do that for him. Despite the early hour, he was immaculately dressed, with the bearing of a man wafting on hints of aftershave.
He acknowledged her with a slight nod, then turned to wheel his bin away. She realised she was holding her breath when a sigh of relief escaped into the crisp morning air. Either he hadn’t seen, or had decided to ignore, her comments in social media about his latest business venture. Perhaps he considered himself above popular opinion.
A local group, calling themselves The Mud Buds, were the strongest supporters of her comments. She wasn’t too concerned about the survival of swamp weeds or small birds, but the noise from vocal champions of the environment helped boost her lonely campaign. People didn’t realise the importance of saving historic buildings facing Mr Beringer’s bulldozers.
He had convinced the local council that an estate of tasteful, serviced apartments for the advancing tide of retirees dependent on a shrinking workforce was a sympathetic use of the Heron Creek Wetlands. She was concerned for a heritage banished to the memories of those future residents, and lost to the next generation.
Her home was her inheritance. The villa had been maintained by her grandfather’s careful carpentry and patient gardening. Over the years, she had watched other families drift away from their draughty cottages into modern bungalows, bought with the money of tempting cash offers.
She had stayed, relying on Council laws to protect her property from being dominated by ostentatious houses. Now, she was afraid she didn’t have the influence to keep her birthright safe.
The clank and roar of an under-powered engine sounded as if the collection truck was returning down the road. A battered van, smelling of burnt oil, pulled up at Mr Beringer’s drive. Krista recognised the driver. River was the local organic café owner.
A hand painted slogan along the side of the van accused, “Eating Meat Is Murder!” Krista had tried a vegetarian diet for a few months, but cravings and flatulence lost the battle against her basic instincts. She had accepted that humans evolved to be omnivores. Her compromise was to eat free-range meat.
River always wore a hat that looked like a knitted condom, so it was no indication that she felt the morning chill. Watching her bare feet poke through layers of brightly coloured skirt to reach for the ground, Krista wondered if they were ever washed before getting pushed into a cold, damp bed each night.
An adrenalin shot of alarm raised Krista’s heartbeat when Mr Beringer stepped away from the van and called across to her, “I think you and River have something to say to me.”
* * * * * *
River tried not to let her anger upset her karma but knew suppression would upset the balance of her chakras, and that was no good for anyone. She had to find a way to express her anger in the right way, to the right person.
It had taken over a year to get the Mud Bud group strong enough to shake up local apathy. Heron Creek was one of her favourite mediation retreats, but that wasn’t the only reason it needed to be preserved.
Mother Earth was under threat. River tried not to use the word ‘environment’. It was a label that people used to separate themselves from the place that sustained them. From a distance, they could believe scientific ‘facts’ that supported their actions. If they could be made to feel like part of a family, nurtured by Mother Earth, they would be more critical of theories that were waiting to be proved.
She had tried to talk personally to one of the town councillors, but it had been a mistake to confront him in his office. From his armour of protocol, he regarded her with a disdain that made her ashamed of her unconventional appearance. Her petition with more than five hundred signatures turned to litter under his gaze.
“How can you say you represent the community when this shows how many people are against it?”
“I’m sorry.” He didn’t sound apologetic. “The developers are using an existing consent. There’s been open consultation, and all requirements of the Resource Management Act have been satisfied.”
“Then your Resource Management Act is bullshit.”
A fever of shame and frustration raged in her as he gave her a lecture about balancing all claims to land use; about the legality of an existing consent, and the benefits to the community.
She quoted defiantly, “When the last tree has died, the last river poisoned, and the last fish caught, only then will we realise we cannot eat money.”
“That’s all very fine, but if you were trying to feed a family, would you give up your job for a mud worm?”
Without the orator’s skill, she had been shouting at the wind. Escaping the halls of bureaucracy into the sunshine, she hoped the world was big enough and strong enough to look after itself.
Looking up at the expanse of sky, with an infinity of light touching ethereal clouds, Krista renewed her faith. She trusted Mother Earth to prevail after the human race had hurtled like lemmings over the cliff of their own self-indulgence.
There was one more chance to deflect the stampede to catastrophe. She decided to try to reason with the developer, face-to-face.
* * * * * *
Daniel knew he had to keep details of his plan for Heron Creek secret from his mother. In the twenty years since his father’s death, every day she blamed Daniel for mismanaging the family fortune.
She had seemed almost pleased with his village concept to tidy up Heron Creek. Then, she’d read the scathing attacks in the local media.
“Don’t worry,” he’d assured her. “We got our resource consent 25 years ago, before everyone got so precious about wetlands and rare birds.”
“Swamp! Wetland! Who cares? Give me a good roof over my head any day.”
He knew that promising her a comfortable old age wasn’t enough. She missed her position as matriarch of one of the country’s most powerful dynasties. His sister was too busy being a single mother to question his management, provided her monthly allowance arrived on time.
The original resource consent had seemed straightforward with the agreement to reinstate the wetland that had been infilled 80 years ago. It would’ve only required digging some trenches. Natural water flow would do the rest. Then, the project became more complex after the river was redirected to irrigate upstream farms, and the internet spawned free-range lobbyists.
He was determined to take the restoration seriously, but ecological consultants and engineer’s reports had eaten into his funds. Struggling to keep costs down, he hadn’t realised the damage to his reputation caused by the pick-‘n’-mix research his detractors had made on the internet.
On a clear autumn morning, when he thought a short walk to retrieve the re-cycling bin was a better start to the day than a second cup of coffee, he decided it was time to take on his challengers.
At the edge of his driveway, made from recycled plastic pavings, and edged with native trees, River’s battered van exuded the fumes of dead dinosaurs. Krista strode across the road to meet them with an air of wool and leather-clad competence.
In his business suit, it would be hard to convince them he wasn’t a greedy land baron, but he couldn’t avoid the opportunity to plead his case. River handed him a clipboard with pages of untidy hand-written script.
“Mr Beringer, I’d like to present you with the Mud Bud petition to halt the destruction of the Heron Creek Wetland.”
He flipped through the pages. “I know you’re upset but, believe me, what I propose isn’t destruction. It’ll be better for the wetlands than leaving them clogged with weeds, and torn up by recreational vehicles with free access to the mudflats.”
River took back her petition. “I never trust anyone who says ‘believe me’”.
She was right, but he couldn’t agree with her. “You don’t have to believe me. Look at the plans. They’ve been available for public consultation for the past two weeks.”
“You kept it secret until there wasn’t enough time to put together a formal protest.”
Krista was nodding. Her silent adjudication was more threatening than River’s colourful protest. Somehow, he had to show these people how they could come over to his side.
“I wanted to make sure I had the facts straight before I made the final plans public.”
“Facts? What facts?” River’s voice shook with rage. “People like you think you can do what you like and deal with the consequences later. Well, Hello! The consequences are here: sea level is rising, birds are disappearing, our fish are full of plastic…”
“Our little swamp isn’t going to change the fact that we’re losing habitats around the globe. What I’m trying to do is fix the damage that’s already been done.”
“That’s just green wash. Your development won’t return the wetlands to their natural state?”
A draining lethargy threatened to defeat him. He fought it with anger. “Natural! What’s natural? Before the earthquakes that formed the estuary? Before Maori fished for eel, or cut flax on the mud flats? Before farmers dammed the river and silted up the swamp?”
“It’s all history, isn’t it?” Krista said calmly. “And once a heritage building is gone, so has a part of our history.”
Despite her quiet manner, he knew her passion for old buildings was real. She was spending more money on repairs to her cottage than it would cost to build a new, comfortable house.
He took a deep breath. “Those old farmhouses have no architectural value. If anything, they’re a health hazard. The hop kilns are different. They’ll be restored and incorporated into the village.”
“It sounds nice to call your development a village, but it’s only streets lined with boxy houses. I don’t want to see that out of my window every day, reminding me that old age will banish me to a ghetto.”
He knew enough about negotiation to hide how much her words stung. Before hesitation could look like guilt he said, “What you’ll see from your window will be forest. Our regeneration programme will bring back the native trees that lined the river.”
“Too little, too late for the migratory birds.”
“I’m sorry, River, but we can’t turn back time. And if your protests delay work on this project, I’ll run out of money. Then, it will be left to the weeds and the RVs.”
Krista took a step towards Daniel. “I suppose we don’t like change, do we? But if the world never changed, we’d still be living in caves and communicating with grunts.”
He wanted to hug her but decided a hand-shake was more appropriate.
“If you could stop calling my project a development, and think of it as a restoration, perhaps we could all work together on this. I respect your opinions, Krista, but compromise is a part of nature. Vegetarians have always been able to live with carnivores.”
River scowled, “I’m vegan.”
Climbing back into her van, she farted.