Honolulu Lite


Tuesday, March 25, 2003

One man’s swamp
is another’s Eden

I was driving past Kawainui Marsh the other day, and it gave me a warm feeling to see people cleaning it up, ripping out all of that evil Salvinia molesta weed, along with abandoned tires, discarded shopping carts and the occasional dead body.

I don't like warm feelings, and when I get them they make me nervous. Writing a humor column is nasty business, and when you start going warm and mushy, you lose your edge. You need the ability to see the world through the sharp, clear prism of cynicism and thinly veiled hostility. Warm feelings might be fine for garden column writers, although they're a pretty angry bunch themselves. And heavy drinkers.

Anyway, what made me nervous about feeling warm about cleaning up Kawainui Marsh is that I'm part of a generation of people brought up to believe that marshes should not be cleaned up. The essence of a marsh is to be muddy and disgusting. You don't clean a marsh, you drain a marsh. And turn it into land you can actually use for something.

THAT WAS THE thinking before we found out that everything in the world, even useless tracks of desert, are actually "eco-systems" with important roles in the health of the planet. I understand that now. I'm an evolved being. But there's still this little glitch in my thought processes, a dysfunctional synapse firing, saying that there are only two types of land: good land and bad land.

Desert was considered crummy, dead land inhabited by steer skulls and large, ugly birds. Then we learned that, no, deserts are fragile eco-systems. I scoffed at first. Fragile? How do you damage a dry, dusty desert? Plant Bermuda grass? Maybe install a row of petunias? (I'll have to consult a garden columnist when one sobers up.)

Marshes, bogs and swamps likewise were "bad land," useless except for relieving old ladies of their pensions in land development swindles. They were wet, horrible places where everything bites, including the plants.

They were great for dumping stuff, since no one went there anyway. And in fact, any body of water was considered a great place to dump stuff. They were dumping human waste into the Ohio River when I was in West Virginia not all that long ago, and I believe New York City still dumps barge-loads of garbage at sea.

Modern Eco-Dudes like me know that's just wrong. You don't dump millions of tons of rubbish in the Atlantic Ocean when you've got New Jersey next door.

And yes, if we are going to have a big, messy marsh in the middle of a nice residential area like Kailua, it should be the cleanest and least weed-infested marsh we can have. It is good to see people spiffing it up, although I'm over my warm flash. Which is why I now know it was not dead bodies they were pulling out of the muck. It must have been rotting carpets or wayward garden columnists.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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