Glimpsing the sea floor is a rare privilege. Human eyes have touched only 5 percent of it; we know less about the planet’s deepest reaches than we do about the surface of the moon. On every submersible dive, a new species is discovered.
And yet, at the start of every hike, we find the trappings of humanity. Usually it’s a beer bottle or two tossed at the side of the road. (I once spotted the remains of an entire case tucked discretely into the shrubbery.) As we trek uphill, the casual merrymakers drop out, and we encounter only the occasional tramping hut, an overnight bunkhouse for hikers, firewood stacked neatly at its door.
What I didn’t miss, though, was the springs’ sulfur aroma, familiar after visits to Yellowstone and Lassen Volcanic, which signifies the origins of the water kilometers below the Earth’s surface. The smell is a sign not just of a therapeutic bathing spot, but also of New Zealand’s incredibly active geology.
The song fits a landscape which, once covered with sheep, has recently been converted to dairyland. Wherever I go in New Zealand, I seem more likely to run into a herd of mooing milk producers than the skittish balls of wool the country is known for.
I’d been in New Zealand two days, and there’d been two shark attacks in Australian waters. The latest victim, a good-looking snorkeling guide who seemed remarkably cheerful about the whole business (“Must have great pain meds,” my hostess said), couldn’t wait for his arm to heal so he could get back in the water.
I find myself doing such hard thinking at odd intervals, usually when science is treating me either very poorly or very well, or when some environmental catastrophe rouses the media. Mostly, I ask myself, “Does this research matter? Am I doing enough?”