Thursday, April 8, 2010

Signs of Spring

Birdland is greening up, and the parade of colors continues. This week features shades of red and blue. Here come Violets and Ground Ivy from the bluer end of the spectrum, Redbud and Weigela from the pink side. In the woods, the Dutchman’s Breeches, Dogtooth Violets, and Trillium, are blooming, and Ramp is up. I’ve always gathered the Ramp (wild leek) leaves to add to salad or stir fry, but this year I plan to dig it for the first time to try the root end. I won’t dig too much—I don’t want to deplete the population. In the Teats Timber where we harvested lumber last fall, the newly opened canopy brings in more light and Mayapples stand like a tiny grove of Truffula Trees. Mayapple, or Mandrake, has a two-year cycle. First it sends up one stalk with an umbrella-shaped leaf. The second year, the stalk branches and two tiny beach umbrellas open to protect a lone blossom, which later brings one yellow “apple.” If you can find a ripe one before the deer get to them, they taste a little like a mild fig.

With such a wild fertility all around, it’s hard not to write a whole letter about the flowers and herbs, but my mind is on another sign of spring—the trash I see everywhere. Cans (mostly beer) and fast food wrappers thrown from cars litter my walk to dig wild leeks for my supper, rubbish on the sidewalks and overflowing dumpsters embellish my walk to work. Many of these things on their way to the landfill could be salvaged. After one wild weekend I found a like-new hooded sweatshirt and a woolen V-neck sweater—both purple. As I stuffed these into my bag to take home and launder, I wondered how they landed on the sidewalk at my feet. Did somebody get jumped for wearing the wrong school colors? Or did he suddenly get so disgusted with the color of violets that he had to rip off his clothes and fling them on the ground? Either way, after a trip to the laundry to wash out the smell of beer and cigarettes, these will keep me warm at chilly track meets this spring while I root for Ellis’ team.

Last week while driving home I saw a fat, drawstring garbage bag in the median on the highway. My first thought was that someone was moving and lost part of their belongings. The bag was stuffed so full, and so neatly tied that I thought it must be a load of clothes. Then I noticed another about a quarter mile away, and another, and several more, evenly spaced, and a different scenario presented itself. Someone who didn’t want to pay for garbage services taking a nighttime ride when the highway is quiet, tossing bag after bag of trash from the back of a truck. Living in the country, we see it often enough, many times in our own roadside. I felt the familiar anger rise as I drove, but it was followed by the realization that even if we pay for someone to take our garbage to the landfill, it still enters the waste stream, and like most streams, might potentially end up in the ocean creating a floating mass of plastic soup twice the size of Texas. The whole “Don’t be a litterbug” concept I grew up with is really just sweeping the problem under the rug. Sometimes I think if we’re going to use disposable items that won’t biodegrade, maybe we should just throw them on the ground when we’re through with them; they’ll end up in the same place whether we’re litterbugs or not, and if we have to look at them maybe we’ll realize we have to stop using plastic. If we don’t want to add to the crisis, we have to break the trash cycle before we even get to the choices to recycle, throw in the landfill or toss out the window.

One way the University YMCA is encouraging people to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle is with their Dump and Run program. Each May, when students are leaving the community en masse, and trying to fit 9 months worth of accumulated goods into the family car the Y collects useable goods to sell at a gigantic garage sale in August when students return. For dumping dates and a list of items they will accept see their webpage: This program does double duty—keeping things out of the landfill in May, and giving students a low cost alternative to buying all-new furnishings for the school year in August. (This is especially a good idea if they’re just going to dump them again when they leave.) The Dump and Run is one antidote to disposable consumerism, and a terrific garage sale.

Bloom in Beauty; Recycle Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in sustainability, cycles, and her own back yard. Birdland has a fan page on Facebook

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