Trash or Treasure?
Maybe when you read that headline you thought we were cleaning closets again. Not this time. We save that for winter months and times of personal crisis that require a release of tension.
No, I’m thinking about our public spaces whether they are parks, waterways, or just the road approaching my house. It is alarming to see the amount of trash and damage being done to our natural surroundings.
Who hasn’t seen a cigarette butt flicked out of a car or plastic bag floating in the street? And don't get me started on spraying "Bob loves Mary" on boulders in our parks. It’s all adding up to a heartbreaking plague on our environment.
Recently Jenni and I hiked at our favorite state park. The trails were clean, the water was clear, and the flowers were gorgeous. We were having a wonderful time. We stopped in the visitor’s center to get our Ultimate Outsider park booklet stamped. Then, as we pulled out of our parking space we saw a man “drop” his face mask as he climbed in his cab. (I’ve replayed the scene a dozen times in my mind and realize he actually threw it to the asphalt but I didn’t recognize that at first.) His truck and fifth wheel camper were stretched across several parking spaces. As I pulled up beside the driver’s door and put my windows down Jenni kindly told him he dropped his mask. I was all innocent on our part up to that point. He looked directly at us and said, “I know.” As we lifted our jaws out of our laps he cranked his truck and pulled out directly in front of us coming within a couple feet of our van. We caught up with him at the stop sign he ignored and got a picture of his camper. We happened to be going the same direction so we acted as if we were following him for several miles. I’m not sure how many times we asked each other “Can you believe he did that?”
Later, a friend remarked that he was a real “maskhole”. Yes, that’s what he was. The term fit perfectly.
The story we pieced together in our minds was that he was required to don a mask when he entered the visitor center and decided he would reveal his indignation by throwing it on the ground and trashing the scenic park he had just enjoyed visiting.
This is one example of our natural places being trashed. We hear stories from the van community (oh yeah, we’re in deep) that certain western BLM (Bureau Land Management) areas which have always been open to boondocking are going to be closed because of the amount of trash being left. I have friends who won’t disclose where they have hiked here in our area because the trails get swarmed with people and trash. Just a few days ago I saw a social media post of a trailer load of garbage collected in a two mile stretch leading up to Pretty Place. (For those who don’t know, Pretty Place, owned by the YMCA, is exactly what its name infers—a beautiful, open air chapel perched on a cliff overlooking a pristine valley in the mountains of South Carolina.)
Some would blame millennials. They would be partly wrong. Millennials don’t drive fifth wheels. The maskhole we encountered was likely the grandfather of a millennial—certainly he lived during the PSA-era of ‘Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute’ or the Native American Chief, on horseback, with a tear rolling down his cheek looking at the trash on the side of a highway.
How do we curb this sense of entitlement in people of all ages? How do we convince them to protect and preserve the environment without having a gun pulled on us?
There are many slogans out there meant to encourage people to be considerate of nature: Hike Responsibly, Leave No Trace, Pack In Pack Out.
I think I’m going to adopt this one: Leave It Better Than You Found It. (and don’t be a maskhole!)