ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.
I think the first time I became aware of trash and the environment was when the Keep America Beautiful commercial of Iron Eyes Cody came out. (As drums pound and smokestacks puff out fumes, Cody looks at a highway coated in debris. A bag of trash is thrown at him. We won’t get into the utter exploitation of Cody’s Cherokee-Cree heritage.) It was the 1970s. Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush included the line, “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s.” These lyrics I belted out with pride because they mentioned “the 1970s,” the decade in which I was born. Obviously, I hear the song differently now. Cody was a Hollywood talent who signed on for the part and forced that tear to pop out from his tear duct. I’m no actor playing a part, and feel them ready to pop often.
In my small neighborhood here on Cape Cod, I come home with trash in my hands.
Yesterday, while walking the dog, it was a McDonald’s bag with an empty sausage McMuffin breakfast container, a plastic bottle and some candy wrappers. I’d like to say that this was maybe because we had a windy day and somebody’s trash barrel wasn’t secure. That a raccoon found treasure and pulled the bag out for a late night snack, but the truth is, I always find trash. This is a middle class neighborhood, filled with many renters who might care little for place, but if I were to read into who lives here based on the trash I find, I would be more inclined to say: This neighborhood is filled with people who just don’t care at all.
The troublesome part is that this is not 1970. We are so much more educated about the environment, we’ve heard the drills about recycling, and we’ve seen pollution disaster after disaster. If I’m reading these trashy tea leaves correctly, we have many a miserable soul who believes a Smirnoff nip before going home to the wife and kids can help take the edge off of a biting reality. That oversized styrofoam cups of extra sugared espresso concoctions deserve to pave our way home. That Subway sandwiches are made not only for “healthy” fast food consumption, but also for the wildlife here. That the reason why I daily find a bag of McDonald’s in the same place is because someone likes to live like a hobbit with Second Breakfast and Elevensies.
I remember when our local Wampanoag Indians won federal recognition a few years back (my town is considered “The Land of the Wampanoag”), and I picked up a massive pile of plastic bottles across the street from a house housing three Wampanoag families. All the bottles labeled with their federal recognition.
I’m not picking up reusable bags with organic carrot tops inside, or vegan granola bar wrappers. It takes a certain person who just doesn’t care to litter. These are the people who feed themselves garbage, live with garbage, and treat the environment as a garbage can. It’s a cycle of abuse that begins with self-abuse that’s become so regular for so many, we consider it almost normal.
I refuse. So, I will continue picking up this trash. And I will believe there are those who care. I’m not certain this is a good approach at all. Maybe I should make signs asking people to pick up the litter. Maybe I should lead a neighborhood cleanup and have the ones who do care take a stand against the ones who don’t.
But who cares?
Between the Lines, is a weekly column navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of life and culture between city and country.