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April 16, 2010

Up On Hawthorn Hill: Connel Creek litter is a disgrace

Richard deRosa
The Cooperstown Crier

— Because several of the back roads that I like to walk are not plowed during the winter, walking them until now has been impossible.

I struck out yesterday on a walk that we affectionately refer to as the loop. It is just under three miles and offers a walker a nice variety of woods, open pasture, and pond life.

The beaver bog just down the road is alive with birdsong, mostly red-winged blackbirds and grackles. If one looks closely enough, juncos and song sparrows can be seen feeding on the branches of low shrubs at the water’s edge, the buds of some starting to swell with life.

While I stood there taking stock of things, four Canada geese flew low over the pond, maneuvered a quick u-turn at the dam end of the bog and, maintaining their perfect military flight formation, headed back over the horizon from whence they came. I suspect they were looking for clear water and, discovering the bog still sealed by a thin glaze of ice, decided to postpone their return home for a few days.

If the weather warms and the ice melts for good, they will return to define their territories, build their nests, hatch their young, thus beginning anew creation’s loveliest miracle.

Unfortunately, there are those among us for whom the environment is but a dumping ground for whatever garbage they see fit to toss from their car windows or pickup truck beds. I guess making a weekly trip to the recycling center requires a bit more energy, and moral backbone, than they can muster. But then again, sloth has never been in short supply. It is bad enough to see our lovely roadsides littered with fast food containers and beer cans. Small potatoes, though, compared to the junk one finds all too easily along steep roadside banks and in creek beds.

Just across the road from the beaver bog Connel Creek starts its journey to Route 166 and points beyond. It meanders its way downhill around s-curves and over diminutive waterfalls, gradually widening into quite a deep gorge about a mile down the road. Thick carpets of dark green myrtle blanket its banks.

Come late spring, ferns and wildflowers will adorn the creek’s edge. It is a testament to the fact that one need not travel very far at all to experience the beautiful.

Unfortunately, some see these banks as ideal dumping grounds for unwanted appliances, tires, and all manner of unidentifiable junk. According to my count the other day, there were at least three old stoves, several refrigerators, and countless tires. I often walk with a bag and collect as much trash as I can, as do some of my neighbors.

The fact that some of us need to go out and clean up after a few slobs with the aesthetic sensibilities of slugs does not give one reason for too much hope. Unfortunately, there are plenty of reasons these days for despair.

Giving into it, however, is out of the question. I was brought up to believe each of us has an obligation to be a responsible steward of this land that gives us life. Clearly, that is not a sentiment shared by some.

Fortunately, most of the loop is unsullied. I heard lots of spring birdsong. Down by another beaver pond I watched two pairs of Canada geese cruise for food. And a pair of mallards dabbled along the water’s edge not far from the pond’s lone beaver hutch. By the time I got home my spirits were buoyed and I felt better about things in general. We do necessarily have to take the good with the bad, the right with the wrong, and the beautiful as well as the ugly.

Despite ending my walk on a spiritual high note, the unpleasant incongruities of life still puzzle me. Images of trash littered hillsides plague me.

As much as I welcome mystery as an essential component of the good life, there is nothing at all enigmatic about the littering imperative. Far too many of us seem awfully good at it, be it air polluting industrial waste or roadside trash. A line from a sixties song comes to mind: ``When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?’’