The trash and litter of nature disappears into the ground with the passing of each year, but man’s litter has more permanence.
~ John Steinbeck
Dear People of the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland,
I’m new here, and have a lot to learn about this part of the world. I know very little about the history, the land, the water, and the people. What I do know, so far, is that this is an incredibly beautiful spot on Earth. The woods, the marshes, the dunes, and the beaches are stunning.
In the countryside, litter doesn’t have a friend. It doesn’t have anybody who’s saying, “Wait a minute, this is really starting to get out of control.”
~ Bill Bryson
Lots of people come to this region to visit the beaches and parks. Wildlife comes from all over to visit, too.
I know from talking to locals, people whose families have been here for generations, that there is a “let nature take care of it” attitude. One man even questioned why we would take the time (or pay the money) to clean up the trash on the property when we could “leave it to nature.”
Here’s the thing. Mother Nature can’t handle it all. There are some things she can’t handle at all. Plastic, for instance. It isn’t biodegradable. It breaks apart into little pieces, and those little pieces are bad for some of the wildlife.
This is a watershed area. The rivers and creeks and ditches all drain into the Chesapeake Bay which drains into the Atlantic Ocean. The trash you leave in the woods and thickets sometimes finds its way into the ditches which drain into the creeks which drain into the rivers, and so on and so forth. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is one of the largest estuaries in North America. It is spread out across six states, and it is home to more than 17 million people and 3,600 species of plants and animals. Did you know that the bay itself holds more than 15 trillion gallons of water? Pretty impressive.
What sometimes astounds me, is the amount of litter found along the roadsides and in the public spaces. Cans and bottles float in the ditches and marshes and creeks. Fast food bags and containers, thrown out of car windows, decorate the back roads and highways. We won’t talk about cigarettes butts just now because I used to smoke and I know how it is. The world is your ashtray.
It is not that difficult to find a trash can or a dumpster. Really. It’s not. Even better, put a trash bag in your car. That way you’ll have a place to put your fast food containers and wrappers, your beer cans and plastic soda bottles, and your empty cigarette packages, all neatly stored until you do happen upon a trash can at a gas station or a rest stop or in your own home.
Pondering on the facts of gravity and the fluidity of water shows us that the golden rule speaks to a condition of absolute interdependency and obligation. People who live on rivers — or, in fact, anywhere in a watershed — might rephrase the rule in this way: do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.
~ Wendell Berry
I know it’s not just a countryside problem. Have you ever been to Philadelphia? It’s one of my favorite cites but, man, is it trashed. There’s litter all over. Some city folks are no better than some country folks when it comes to littering up the place. (Note: Philadelphia is not within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed area. I used it as an example. Other cities — Baltimore, Washington, D.C. — are, but it’s been a while since I’ve visited either of those cities and couldn’t tell you if they’re havens for litterbugs or not.)
M and I go out to the front of our property at least once a week to pick up trash that has been thrown out of car or truck windows. Mostly it’s fast food garbage. The majority of it comes from McDonald’s. Coming in a close second are Coors Light beer cans. There might be a meaning in that, but I’m not sure what it is.
I’m surprised that people are still littering as much as they are. Even as far back as when I was in school — you know, in medieval times — there were education campaigns designed to teach children not to pollute. The tearful Native American on his horse looking out over a littered land. Woodsy Owl urging us to “Give a Hoot! Don’t pollute!” Now that we’re all grown up and so well educated in terms of littering, how is it that people are still doing it?
M and I will continue to clean up after others. We even do so when we’re out and about, hiking on public lands. If you could lend a hand by not littering in the first place, it would be much appreciated. Don’t do it for us. Do it for yourselves so that you can continue to enjoy the beauty of the public marshlands and other wildlife management areas. Do it for the wildlife so it will still be there when you want to hunt, fish, or trap. Do it for the sake of safety in the waterways where you boat and swim.
Thank you for reading, and for your consideration in this matter.
Wishing you the peace and beauty of a clean environment,
Be good, be kind, be loving. Just Be. 🙂