There’s a creek near my house surrounded by woods filled with juvenile blooms trying to break out of their barren winter branches. It’s “spring” in Connecticut. Meaning, it’s still cold-ish, and don’t even bother to set out your basil until after Mother’s Day. Where other regions are starting to soak up the warmth that comes with this change in seasons, us New Englanders are flirting with taking down our snow poles, in the hopes that this bold action won’t summon a spring snow blitz.
In this creek bed among the burgeoning green, glints of alien silvers, reds and blues peak out between the erupting fiddleheads and a common plant I have yet to identify but affectionately have called “spring cabbage” since we transplanted ourselves here seven years ago. Busch, Bud and Coors catch the light. The eyesore can’t be missed; refuse of what I’m guessing was an underage drinking binge under the cover of night and woods, along an unchecked street only a short hike from this lovely stream. There’s also evidence of an attempted sophisticated step-up in underage drinking – red solo cups, orange juice containers and empty vodka bottles. (Imagine my heavy eye roll here.)
There is no shortage of litter all around us if we look closely, and this is but one small swath of nature, defiled by illegal and reckless behavior. I can't help but notice that these litterbugs add insult to injury – it’s bad enough you were doing something you knew was wrong in the first place, but then you left behind your trash (most of it recyclable!!) that broadcasts how “edgy” and “bad” you must be. Wow, so Insta-worthy.
As I read over my words I realize that I come across as grumpy and out of touch with teenage angst. Sorry older teens. I most certainly have become a middle-aged curmudgeon, with no tolerance for environmental indignities like littering and disregard for property. I can already hear myself hollering, “Not on my lawn!” In reality, the entire planet is “our lawn,” and we should all take action when it comes to how we care for it.
Trash is alluring to me. How our habits create it, the ways we try to dispose of it, and our utter denial of it. I toured a single-stream recycling plant and waste facility for a story I wrote in my days as a Texas small-town newspaper journalist. It was enthralling. The lifecycle of trash is fascinating, and it is so much more than what we see in our own bins. We toss things away – out of our homes and out of our immediate consciousness – without ever caring to understand the entire scope or impact of our habits. When I see beer cans strews about the forest floor during my daily outdoor jaunt, it brings all these feelings to the surface.
Cultivating Respect could start by looking to the soil beneath our feet. Creating a respectful environment can literally begin with… the environment. Our environments. Our own little spots of the world. The larger picture of environmental degradation can feel entirely too overwhelming, so much so that it is far easier to deny the scope of the problem than to lobby for meaningful change that will benefit future generations. So what can I do as one small particle in a sea of pollution? Pick up the trash. Not yours? Pick it up. Angry at those whose carelessness caused the mess? Pick it up.
Believe me, there’s so much more work to be done here, meaningful work that we as individual consumers can be a part of. But today, as you encounter your own environment, this is my one plea.
I am but one person, but I can be the change. Our collective actions can model the kind of behavior that will lead by example. Clean it up anyhow. Make a difference in your own small dominion. Be the servant leader.
So as the fiddleheads are trying to unfurl to their full, radiant, ferny potential, I pick up litter and separate out recyclables. The kids come with me and we have a jolly time, enjoying each other’s company, soaking in some fresh air, and having good conversations about our shared values of being good stewards of our own environments.
Today, the fiddleheads in my neighborhood are free. Busch, Bud and Coors will find new life in their limitless aluminum future. And perhaps, just perhaps, the next round of underage drinkers that scope out this spot for a little late night rumpus will know that someone cares, and that they can too.
Darcy Castro is the 2019 Elite National American Woman of Service, representing a national pageant focused on community service and empowering women. Cultivating Respect with Darcy Castro is an initiative focused on practical ways to create respectful environments in our own little pockets of the world. Each month’s article and podcast feature honest, thought-provoking ideas that aim to inspire and foster positive, respectful communities. Follow Cultivating Respect with Darcy Castro at DarcyCastro.com.