I was thoroughly enjoying my birding hike. I’ve always liked the woods in winter and the forest I trekked this day is particularly appealing. There’s a nice little stream and the green of the pines contrasts nicely with the varying grays of the bare hardwoods. The brown-leaf carpet on the ground adds a nice touch as well.
I hadn’t been in this stretch of woods for a while and it felt good. That is until I rounded a bend in the trail and received a rude awakening. Here was a deep pool, formed by slackening current against a sharply curving cut-bank.
It wasn’t a pretty sight. Soda cans, bait cups, food wrappers and other debris littered the bank. Similar detritus bobbed in the eddying water itself. Snarls of discarded fishing line and even the remains of disposable diapers dangled from the streamside brush.
Sickening. My first thought: I have to write about this. No matter that I’ve written about it time and again.
I never ask why anymore. I know why people habitually scatter their leavings amidst otherwise lovely surroundings. The reason is simple and is not only because most folks just plain don’t care.
The fact is we are followers. In almost everything we do. We often litter and pollute for the same reason we might let a sissy little European fashion designer dictate what we wear. In short, we “trash” the great outdoors because someone else trashed it first and somehow that makes it seem alright to follow suit. We fail to see how one more piece of garbage could possibly matter.
There’s one thing that baffles me, though. Who was first? What angler, picnicker or hiker initially came upon a naturally beautiful place, left behind a handful of trash, and thereby led so many others to believe it is a perfectly acceptable dumping ground? Was it the same fool who carved the message into the beech tree along the trail? Come on, Derek. You actually think anyone else really cares how much you love Shanna?
Not that those of us who follow his lead are blameless. Thoughtless imitators of dastardly deeds are no less guilty than the instigator. Trouble is, original sin’s worst fault lies in making subsequent sinning much easier.
Chances are it’s only the thoughtless imitators we now have to consider anyhow. There are few unsullied places left where man has not left behind reminders that ours is a throwaway, largely superficial society.
Even with the growing popularity of such practices as reuse and recycling, it’s likely we will always be a nation of discard. Those who love and respect the outdoors must take care that our discarding is done only in places we ourselves deem acceptable and somehow realize our woods and waters were never meant to be landfills or dumps.
Preaching? Yeah, I guess. I get that way sometimes. Sometimes I even rant and rave. I suppose it’s my being a child of the Sixties.
So, can the problem be solved? Probably not. Not completely. Outdoor slobbery is just too easy, too convenient.
There is something, though. Something we all might do to help. Something really, really simple.
Suppose every angler, hunter, or other outdoor enthusiast, wherever his sporting pastime takes him, just stops and picks up one or two pieces of litter before he heads home? And what if he makes that a habit every time out?
Would that make a difference? It could, you know. Might even do more good than we can imagine. And the effort involved would be minimal indeed. Why not try it and see? Heck, we can even do it on the sly if we prefer, when no one who might label us nature nerds is looking.
Laughable? A lost cause? Could be, but I have thoughts on that, too.
In a world that has become ever more meaninglessly superficial, particularly this time of year, it is often the “lost” causes that are most worth fighting for.