Jul 05 2012
Nobody admits to getting off on garbage. Well, nobody I know, anyway. But if your backcountry haunts are anything like my home waters, you just can’t get away from it. With apologies to the Troggs, garbage is now all around us. And no, I’m not talking about the Big Issues here: huge gyres of eternal plastic waste swirling ceaselessly in the mid‑Pacific, endless tailbacks of creeping cars belching carbon dioxide, methane clouds bubbling up from thawing permafrost, gender‑benders dumped in lakes and streams insidiously transforming bull gators into meek momma’s boys… These things all have profound implications for the continued well‑being of our own species, of course, but they are (mostly) invisible. So we find them easy to ignore.
And I’m ignoring them, too. Instead, I’m talking ordinary, everyday trash. It’s right there for all of us to see and (often) smell. In your face and up your nose. Like I just said, it’s all around us. Still, when I allowed my feelings on the subject to spill over onto these virtual pages a while back, I figured the column would elicit little or no response. Or, if anyone did bother to write, the letter would likely be something of this sort: “Eww! Why do you have to talk about such negative stuff, anyway? If you can’t say something nice…”
I’d have understood that. I’d even have sympathized with the writer. I don’t enjoy talking trash all that much, to be honest. Given my druthers, I’d rather natter on chirpily about sleek boats, glorious sunsets, singing birds, and dancing waters. Who wouldn’t?
Of course, the garbage would still be there, whether I talked about it or not, and as I explained in my earlier column, I haven’t learned the Art of Not Seeing. Nor am I interested in trying. So the bile that rises in my gullet whenever I confront the trashing of my home waters eventually bubbled out into virtual print, though when Farwell asked me about it, I confidently predicted I’d be talking to myself. But I was wrong. The article generated a lot of mail — the most mail I can remember around a column, not to mention the longest letters. And I don’t think a single writer took me to task for my negativity. Quelle surprise, as they say on the Champs‑Élysées.
Well, I asked for it, didn’t I? Yes, I did. My column concluded with these words:
Have you ever revisited a favorite spot in the backcountry, only to find it transformed into a passable imitation of a poorly managed landfill? That’s been happening more and more often to me these days. Now I’m wondering if it’s just a local phenomenon, or if the problem’s bigger. The upshot? I’ve spent this week talking trash. Let’s hope that it’s just the start of a long and productive conversation.
Not that I expected anyone to take me up on the implied invitation. But since so many folks did, I figured it was incumbent on me to keep the conversation going, so to speak, especially as my correspondents made it abundantly clear that the trashing of woods and waters wasn’t simply a local problem, confined to my corner of the northern Adirondacks. I got mail from folks all across the continent. I even got letters from foreign parts, places where I’d imagined that things like picking up the garbage were better organized than they are here in Liberty Hall.
Anyway, here goes: A small sampling of the mail I received, reprinted by the kind permission of the writers. And just to prove I’m not wedded to negativity, I’m going to begin on a positive note, with the words of a man who does a good deal more than point with alarm. In fact, he takes the direct approach: Picking up other people’s garbage… Read more…