I’d like to think that people who eat Stone Blue chips (as I do) don’t throw the packaging overboard or out the window of a speeding car. But it seems they do. I picked up the wet and silt covered bag along with an empty Gatorade bottle, a plastic coffee container and other stuff that littered the Tivoli landing. The debris washed up on shore shook me and made it near impossible to get my boat into the water. I spent twenty minutes picking up trash before I could slide my kayak into the water on my first paddle of 2017.
In spring, snow melts and the roadsides are revealed for what they are: dumping grounds for people’s stuff. Some is overt, like the trash bag tossed that then bursts or is torn apart by a hungry raccoon. But most are items casually flung from a car window. I like to undertake a thought experiment: I picture myself sailing down the road in my Subaru and I toss a Ginger Ale can from the window. I can’t do it, even in my imagination.
In the same way that our careless ways are revealed to us in the roadside so too does the river tell our dirty story. Stuff collects under the ice, in the snow that laces the edge of the river. Released, it travels about, along with logs and sticks, stumps that have floated free from land. There’s no other way to say it: yesterday the river was a chocolate mess.
There’s something invigorating about this mess: I have something to do. It was Marjory Stoneman Douglas who wrote “It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment,” she wrote. “It’s an extended form of housekeeping.” She wrote The Everglades: A River of Grass in the Rivers of America series, transforming the way people view this land from a treacherous miasmic swamp to a beautiful river of grass.
And I hate to say it, but in my case, she’s right: I love picking up garbage. One minute the shoreline is littered, then it is clean. My work is fast and obvious. In this political climate having that sense of small accomplishment seems essential, gives me energy to embark on the larger house cleaning issues.
As my friend Kate and I paddle the river south, past Magdalen Island, then Cruger and into the South Tivoli bay I see the Cormorants V-ing north along the river, I see the Osprey perched on the channel marker. I delight in the Green-winged Teal that flushes when we enter the Bay. But I also take note of the plastic barrel, the Styrofoam, the jugs and buckets bobbing about in the water, the logs that I must miss lest then flip me over.
I can’t wait to get out and sweep these things out of the river. And so I look forward to Riverkeeper Sweep, now in its 6th year. On May 6, thousands will take to the shoreline picking up trash. We’ll all be house keeping the earth. In Tivoli we’ll be tidying our shoreline. Come join us—surprise yourself with how satisfying a clean house is.