It was late on Sunday morning and I was shin-deep in muddy water wearing ill-fitting gumboots and some holey rubber gloves. Around my ankles was a mass of watercress, which wasn’t supposed to be there, and ribbon-weed, which was. Also around me were twenty-odd fellow students, similarly kitted out in “waterproof” equipment. Our job was simple: find the watercress, pull up the watercress and put it in a plastic bucket. When the bucket was full we would empty it into a wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow was full someone would wheel it back up the path to the wetland centre and spread it on the mulch heap. We worked steadily at our task, accompanied by a chorus of cheerfully chirping frogs. Other ambient sounds included the wind rustling the bushes, waterfowl honking in the near distance and the sucking pop of gumboots being extracted from the mud. And, every so often, an emphatic exclamation.
I will admit that I was responsible for at least one such interjection. As I went about eradicating watercress, I had begun to pull up any other plants I recognised as non-native. Seeing a likely specimen, I bent down and took a firm grasp on it…
My workmates looked up in horror, no doubt expecting to see me wresting with a tiger-snake. I was standing upright, having stepped back reflexively, and clasping one gloved hand with the other while my right foot sank rapidly into the mud.
“I pricked my finger!” I said, in tones decidedly non-reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty.
“What was it?” asked someone nervously.
“A spiky plant!” I replied, pointing indignantly at the offending specimen.
“It’s probably a thistle,” remarked our lecturer calmly from the boardwalk.
“Probably,” I agreed.
We continued work until the early afternoon, pausing every so often to stretch our backs and remove our hands from the icy water. We had been lucky with the weather, in that it was pouring when we arrived but at least partially sunny when we started the outdoor work. By the time we headed back we’d cleared most of the watercress from a natural pond and a small section of the lake-bank. The frogs, we were told, would be grateful. In fact I was rewarded for my work when I spotted a clicking froglet, hopping just in front of me. It was about the length of my thumb (and I have small hands), the colour of mud and marvellous in its fragility. I thought that that was worth getting stuck in the swamp, if only because I managed to keep my clothes dry!