I’ve never understood why people litter. When my father gave me my first car—an army-green 1956 VW Beetle—one of the things I did right away was hang a little canvas trash bag below the dash. On the rare occasion when a passenger tossed, say, a candy wrapper out the window, I immediately braked, pulled onto the shoulder, walked back and retrieved the bit of paper—and placed it in my litter bag. I never said anything to the offender. But the lesson worked…at least when they rode in my Bug and subsequent vehicles. Afield, I’ve always practiced a similar approach. If a companion—young or old—throws something down, I wordlessly pick it up and stick it in my coat or vest pocket or tackle bag. Along a stream—fishing, canoeing, just poking about—I try and carry a disposable cigarette lighter which I use to burn those wads of discarded monofilament line careless anglers regularly discard. This is more than a dislike of litter, however. I can’t tell you the number of birds and small animals I’ve rescued after they’ve become entangled in this old line snarls—everything from muskrats to groundhogs, kingfishers to great blue herons. Old fishing line is a frequent deathtrap for wildlife. Sure, anyone who fishes suffers the occasional line tangle. And often the only way to put yourself back in business is to yank off the snarl and start fresh. Yet it only takes a moment to hold a lighter flame to the wadded mono and turn the dangerous mess into a harmless lump of plastic ash. Living beside a river is sometimes like living beside a refuse bin. I often think half the people using the stream leave evidence of their passing behind—empty soda cans and drink bottles, bait cartons, sandwich wrappers, even articles of clothing. And when high water comes, mixed in with the down-washing mass of logs and leaves and natural debris is everything from old tires to barbecue grills, plastic buckets, toys of all sorts and sizes, garbage bags stuffed with who-knows-what, pieces of junk cars, and discarded furniture. You name it, and at one time or another it has floated past the cottage…even if you’d have sworn such stuff can’t float. Not that any stream should ever be treated with such disrespect and abuse—but it’s particularly odious when the river in question was one of the first chosen for “State Scenic Rivers” status—a listing based on its clean water and singular beauty. To me, such places are almost holy. I would no more litter a stream or woodland trail than I would a church or my mother’s grave. It’s is a matter of both reverence and honor. Littering is a form of contempt, an absence of conscience. And perhaps even an inadvertent insight into the psychic and physical sanitation of the individual—for I always equate a lack of cleanliness with those treat their waste so cavalierly. People who are nasty in their daily lives are nasty in their body and soul, is my way of thinking.
Yesterday morning, for the eighth year in a row, a group of volunteers did what they could to rectify the situation, giving the river its annual clean-up. Armed with gloves, trash bags, strong backs, and youthful energy, they came floating downstream in red canoes, putting in every so often to go along the banks and pick up the collection of litter and loose manmade clutter. Sometimes good stewardship means becoming the other fellow’s de facto trash man. If I’d have known about the event, I would have joined them. As it is, all I can do is express my gratitude to them for the willingness to spend their time sweating, tugging, picking up and carting away in their canoes the garbage and junk which would otherwise sully the stream’s pristine beauty. To one and all—your hard work was genuinely appreciated. From the bottom of my heart, and the hearts of all of who live along, regularly visit, and unabashedly love the river's sycamore-lined banks, emerald pools, and minnow-quickened shallows… THANK YOU!