Sunday, May 2, 2010

Garbage Old and New

Birdland is windy enough today that I think twice about hanging laundry before deciding to go ahead, using four pins instead of my usual three. The wind is warm, but the house has a residual coolness left from the spring chill of the past few days. I’m not complaining; I know that soon enough we’ll wish for a break in the heat. The flowers seem to keep a while longer than usual in this mild spring. Lilacs are just now fading, and Iris blossoms linger in their spiral wrappers. Grandma’s yellow roses have sent out small, tight bud. I have to remember to check often, because they hide behind the big lilac bushes, and only last a day or two.

We moved the chicks from the aviary to the chick creeper, where they can enjoy fresh grass. Today I’ll move the birds from the indoor winter aviary to their summer home. The chicks can venture out of their low, creeping coop, but can duck back inside if the big hens come to bother them. The Maples are dropping their helicopters and the leaves are pushing out. In just a few weeks the winged seeds grew from tiny, green mustaches to straw colored commas swirling down from the sky. I scoop them out of the little pond, but they still spiral down to float on the dark water.

The wind picks up and the dogs and I head for the woods. The Spring Beauty, Dutchman’s Breeches, and Dogtooth Violets that carpeted the forest floor a week ago are mostly gone, but the triple leaflets of Jack-in-the-Pulpit push through the fertile mulch. The double umbrellas of the 2nd year Mayapple now each shelter a yellow flower. Ursula tugs at her leash and we make our way through the Teats Timber where we harvested lumber last fall. The undergrowth hasn’t come back yet, and the walking is easy, even with a leash. We come upon the little stream where folks used to dump trash. After a good rain, we can often find old bottles. I’ve been pulling antique glass out of that gully for years, and I keep thinking I’ve found most of them, or at least most of the best ones, but today, right on the surface are a cobalt blue Milk of Magnesia and a ketchup bottle—both perfectly whole and predating screw caps. I pick these up and carry them home thinking about trash, and especially plastic. I’m sure the people who dumped these bottles never imagined I’d one day comb these woods searching for treasures. Today’s trash is another story. I find plenty of modern garbage, too, which will never be any good for anybody. Water bottles, soda bottles, a child’s car seat have been washed down that gully too, thrown casually or deliberately from a passing car.

My mind returns again to that Pacific Garbage Patch, the plastic island of floating debris. For years I’ve been patting myself on the back about garbage. Most weeks we don’t generate enough garbage to fill our trash barrel. We recycle and try to buy things second hand. In the grocery story, I consider my purchases carefully: how much packaging comes with this product? I’ve never ever bought plastic garbage bags, using instead the plastic grocery bags that somehow collect in my kitchen even though I try to be diligent about bringing my own bags, or requesting paper, or even using the trick my friend, Mary B. taught me. When I’ve forgotten my canvas bags, I’ll put my groceries back into the cart without bags. It’s an easy transfer from the cart to the car, and at home, I can grab the bags from the kitchen to unpack. I’ve had some weird looks at the checkout counter. I think they’re getting used to me now, but back to the inappropriate self-congratulation. Until those grocery bags are biodegradable, they, too, might end up in the floating mass of plastic soup that could very well lead to our destruction. I know I can do better. No, I’ve never bought garbage bags, but I can stop buying plastic sandwich bags, freezer bags, stop using the free bags in the produce section to bag veggies. I can use more permanent containers and wrap Ellis’ lunchtime sandwiches in waxed paper, closed with a small piece of tape.

The dogs and I walk back to the road. I’m clutching my bottles, planning new challenges for myself. What if I went one month without buying anything with unrecyclable plastic? What if I did some investigation to find out how much of the plastic I take to the recycling drop off actually gets recycled? We’re all in this together. Small but important steps in the right direction may put us on the right path and give us courage to take large ones.

Walk in Beauty; Work in Peace; Blessed Be.

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