THE ENVIRON MENTALLY-CHALLENGED
Word count: 1,028
I had been thinking about that place all winter. It’s my hiding place. I don’t go there to hide; I keep it hidden, tucked away in my mind. It’s where I go when my world starts to suck and I don’t like what I see in the mirror. It’s a place nobody can take away from me. It’s where I’ll have my ashes dumped when I buck out—there, at the old wooden footbridge, where I always stop to rest and take it all in. In that canyon, I do a lot of looking in—and up.
Cottony clouds light up a harsh blue sky and pile up at the rim of the canyon. The ridges are topped with a mix of Aspen and pine and the steep green slopes leading up to them look, from a distance, like well-manicured lawns and are easy on the mind. At the tree line, the wind shimmers through the Quakies, and in the trembling shadows their white trunks are highlighted by dark green pines. Closer, the slopes turn gentle and are dotted with rocky outcrops stained black and rust by lichen, so uniform that you have to look hard to see that they aren’t the foundations of ancient castles. On one formation, a lone pine has found purchase and its shade looks inviting. Down by the creek, purple sage and blue, yellow, and white wildflowers cover the meadows between the scattered stands of willow, and the banks are cut deep in places by sparkling spring-fed rivulets where light glints from the sun-dazzled bottoms of empty beer cans.
I have been preceded by those whom I (in an attempt at being politically correct) call the environ mentally-challenged, or for those nature lovers who pride themselves in the ability to rattle off the Latin names of animals, bugs, and fauna, the inviron ideota.
When I hike into remote areas and stumble upon piles of empty beer cans, worm containers, pop bottles, and dirty diapers—which are never empty—I start hating people. Based on the number of times this happens, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the environ mentally-challenged far outnumber people who respect the environment; however, there is no way to tell, because people who travel through the wilderness with respect don’t mark their trails with trash. They leave no evidence of their passing.
I added an empty trash bag to my accoutrements for a few years until I found myself lugging full thirty-gallon trash bags around and still not making a dent. The trash seemed to increase as if I were the victim of some kind of curse, like that Greek god who had to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll down the other side when he reached the top. I gave up on the idea of singlehandedly cleaning up the world.
Most of my journeys into the back country involve fishing for trout. I feel like an intruder and sometimes wonder if I should confine myself to observation, foregoing any interaction with the trout, and just enjoy the beauty and solitude. But that would put me in a camp with people who think that human beings aren’t part of the ecosystem and that we just showed up last week. Besides, I like holding living colors in my hand—and releasing them. The difference between humans and other inhabitants of the planet is we have the ability to choose how we affect the environment. Sadly, many choose to affect it negatively, or they just don’t give a tinker’s damn.
When I began finding piles of empty spinner-bait packages with plastic bags clearly identifying them as coming from the gas station just up the road, I suggested to its owner that he un-package the spinners at the time of purchase and securely hang them on the environ mentally-challenged’s lower lip, and to his credit he seemed in favor of the idea.
I sometimes find empty beer cans stacked neatly in the shape of a pyramid. When I come across these monuments to ignorance I’m reminded of the construction companies that I sometimes work for that operate on what I call the pyramid principle, i.e., if you get enough primitive people together you can build anything. When enough alcohol has been consumed so that building a pyramid out of empty beer cans seems like a good idea, you should stop drinking. You could find yourself explaining why the shore patrol found you lying naked on a sidewalk in Bangkok with a rubber chicken tied around your neck—and that’s all I have to say about that.
Some litter seems not only to be acceptable but sanctioned by the Forest Service. I’m talking about the paper-plate-signs you see stapled to trees, taped to road signs, and propped up with rocks on the sides of the road. Curiosity led me to follow one such set of signs marked “Hick’s Reunion” for eight miles, finding when I got there that the sign was indeed apropos.
Over the years I’ve come to accept trash as part of the wilderness experience. That is until last year when I came upon a thirty-pack’s worth of empties in one of my favorite remote canyons. The camp site was fresh, and I stood there looking around with clinched fists wanting to kick somebody’s ass. I didn’t see anybody, which was a good thing, as getting into an altercation with somebody that has the strength and determination to hump a thirty-pack that far probably isn’t a good idea. I was sitting on a log, staring at the pile of empties, wondering what could be done, when it hit me. While aluminum beer cans, plastic pop bottles, and disposable diapers are not biodegradable, the environ mentally-challenged are. The compostability of the environ mentally-challenged/compostus imbecillus increased my estimation of their overall value dramatically. I had an idea for an environmental awareness initiative based, not on catchy slogans, colorful posters, or cartoon caricatures of forest creatures, but on aluminum baseball bats—Aluminum, for the ease with which it can be wiped clean of trace evidence.
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