Living

Published on May 14th, 2008 | by Justin Van Kleeck

4

Earth: Our Sacred Trashcan

TrashOnce upon a time, I came to a stop at the intersection of two country roads on the outskirts of Charlottesville, Virginia. Dutifully and lawfully stopped in my car, dutifully and lawfully looking both ways before turning, I happened to notice a scattering of plastic cigar tips on the pavement.

At first I was perplexed: Why would someone empty his or (less likely) her ashtray at an intersection? And why cigars?

But then my confusion turned to consternation. Here I was, stopped atop a pile of someone’s waste after having just driven over the mighty Rivanna River, with mountains and trees and blossoms and birds and blue sky virtually enveloping my senses, and now plastic cigar tips present themselves to my perception!

Alas, my heart sank like a stone in that roiling river I had just traversed.

Ever since that traumatic experience in an otherwise idyllic setting, the presence of human detritus has grown ever more prominent in my environmental awareness. Fast-food containers, plastic grocery bags, soda-pop bottles, sometimes even car parts—-here, there, everywhere, it seems that humanity is only visible in the things it has thrown away.

Almost everywhere nowadays, not just in my fairly rural locale, any patch of grass or stand of trees seems be a field of litter waiting for harvest.

But the farmers and the field hands seem to be sleeping in this season.

And so no matter where we might happen to be, all signs show that we have a long way to go before we will have the fully developed “ecological conscience” articulated so urgently by the early twentieth-century American conservationist Aldo Leopold.

And so there is a profound intimation flitting around in my senses that the planet is becoming little more than a garbage disposal, that the sacred Earth is now a sacred trashcan.

I have so often seen on my morning walks the Blue Ridge in their autumn glory, or the sunrises and sunsets that bathe spring green with gold, or the snow and crystalline icicles on bare dogwoods—and a soda-pop bottle sticking its neck up from a pile of leaves, a mound of snow, a colloquy of daffodils.

I then wonder:
Have even the molecules of glass and plastic found a way to sprout, enchanted by that magic hiding just beneath the surface of the soil and moistened by the rain and the dribbles of soda left in the bottle?
Has the Earth found a way to turn waste into beauty, detritus into décor?

The sun still glimmers on the dew at daybreak, but it also glimmers off aluminum cans, glass jars, and sometimes even plastic cigar tips.The cardinals still know that twigs make better nests than shoestrings and plastic bags, and the squirrels prefer to dig in moist soil rather than decomposing cardboard boxes….

But those same squirrels often can be found playing in discarded car tires, and I have seen wrens and sparrows making good use of nearly everything that offers a few nooks and crannies.

So maybe nature can even embrace the material remains of humanity–our bodies and the goods we cannot (and apparently do not want to) take with us when we go—in its ample bosom. Maybe this blue and green and brown and white dot in the cosmic whirl of color can accommodate the things its inhabitants cast aside. Perhaps the shimmering of the sun on the planet’s waters is made more captivating to eyes looking at us from space by the glitter of our electric lights at night.

Still, I wonder if this sacred planet is losing its sanctity with every soda-pop bottle, fast-food container, and plastic cigar tip dropped upon its surface.

And I wonder what I am doing for the Earth–and to it, despite my affection.

And I wonder if we are losing our connections and community and communion with this place, our place…as well as to each other and to all the places we call home.

Sun rises, sun sets, and I wonder….

Image courtesy of Michelangelo-36 via Wikimedia Commons.



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About the Author

I am an ethical vegan (since 1999), a writer, an educator, an activist, an organizer, and a vegan-of-all-trades. I have a PhD in English but then left academia to work on social change. I focus on veganism, animal rights, local foods, farming practices, environmentalism, and sustainability--starting from the position that humans are just one part of the biosphere, not the center of it.



  • http://journals.aol.com/sesalmony/HumanandEnvironmentalHealth/ Steve Salmony

    At least someone is standing up and speaking out………..

    Lee Iacocca Says:

    Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course’

    Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned ‘Titanic’.

    You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up.

    These are times that cry out for leadership. But when you look around, you’ve got to ask: ‘Where have all the leaders gone?’ Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage………. and common sense?

    Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane, or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm. Everyone’s hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn’t happen again. Now, that’s just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you’re going to do the next time.

    Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening.

    Hey, I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I’m trying to light a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope……………….If I’ve learned one thing, it’s this:

    You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action….. It’s not too late, but it’s getting pretty close.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

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  • Moriah

    It makes me sad and angry that humans just use the Earth as a trashcan. We’re not the only creatures that live here, and, in my opinion, we are not the most important. We are just part of the web of life here.

    The other Earthlings and our as yet unborn descendents will have a giant dump to live on. They may not have a clean water supply or clean air to breathe! That should cause outrage! We destroy forests without a thought to the animals who live there, the trees themselves, or the Indigenous people who may need them. It’s sickening.

    A healthy Earth is everyone’s right–us humans, the plants and animals, and the Earth itself.

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