things we go looking for and things we find

The ice has finally melted and walking is once again possible in the ravine and woods and parks without cleats or sticks or fear of sliding down some never before noticed incline.

I go in search of signs of early blooms.

I know where to look for coltsfoot and bloodroot, banks of bluebells and trilliums but those aren’t up yet. It’s mostly very brown and then a sweet surprise among the scruff, a different kind of sign, one that indicates I’m not alone in my thoughts.

For a while the only bit of colour I find is dog poop bags and I wonder (and I’m forever wondering this) what’s the point of bagging poop if you’re just going to leave it hanging on a fence or tossed under a tree or someplace you think is out of sight? (Not a rhetorical question.)

I rarely pick up this kind of litter.

There’s plenty of other stuff but I’ve forgotten to bring a litter bag and so I make little nests of what I find with the idea of picking it up and carrying as much as I can in my hands on the way back.

But it’s soon obvious there’s more than I can carry so I need a bag, and I know I’ll find one because it’s like magic… it’s like the universe is saying thank you for cleaning me… and, oh, I hear you need a bag… here’s one…

And then… presto bongo… there one is.

So I walk and pick up litter and wonder why there aren’t more garbage cans and who are these people dropping stuff all over the place because I never actually see anyone do it…

and then I notice the way spring has this sound, the birds, like they have a whole new repertoire and the light is different and then I see a red-winged blackbird and I remember something I read earlier this very morning in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek…

about how she was once startled by the hundreds of red-winged blackbirds that flew out of a tree and how the tree didn’t look any different when they were gone because it’s like they’d been invisible in there, and still were… because even though there were hundreds a moment ago, there was suddenly not one to be seen anywhere…

and how this reminded me of the very same experience when I was kayaking one morning when hundreds of red-winged blackbirds flew out of the reeds at sunrise… and just as quickly disappeared…




the war on litter: notes from the front line


Actually, not so much notes as questions.

For instance…

All those festively coloured bags of doggie doo-doo you see on boulevards, sidewalks, parks, woodlands. Are dog walkers notoriously butter-fingered, i.e. are all those bags unknowingly dropped? Or have they been set down with the idea of being retrieved on the return trip (after all, who wants to carry crud AND a Timmy’s while strolling) and then forgotten when a different route home is decided upon? Or just forgotten. And those baggies all chubby with doo doo tied to fences or hanging from trees. What is that??  The result of someone coming along, finding a dropped bag and thinking: hmmm… let’s see what could be the best possible move here… oh, I know!  Or do the dog walkers themselves use the baggies as a sort of code among themselves? (If so, please let me in on it, because I’m an occasional dog walker myself.)

Also… people who enjoy a walk (with or without furry friends), who choose to ramble in the pristine beauty of a forest, conservation area or field of buttercups, the beach or any shoreline… and yet somehow find it normal to drop their drinking cups, cans, bottles and chip bags like breadcrumbs as they go. Why are you walking in pristine beauty when you obviously don’t like pristine beauty? Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to stretch your legs at the dump? Wouldn’t you feel more at home there??  Serious question.

And speaking of cups, cans and bottles. (And bags of doo doo for that matter.) Please don’t chuck them under trees. It just makes it harder for me to ferret them out. (FYI — they don’t magically become invisible under there)

Oh, and to the black Honda with tinted windows in front of me as I left the Bulk Barn the other day, whose passenger threw a plastic cup out the window while I watched, stunned:  I’m sorry I didn’t gather my moxie in time to put my car in Park, get out, knock on your tint and ask you in my best inquiring-minds-want-to-know voice, what the [redacted] is wrong with you. Again, serious question:  How messed up is your life that you have so little regard for the planet and what can we do to help you?

And here’s something I learned recently… cigarette butts take forever to decompose. In the meantime they clog and poison land and waterways and are often found inside fish. Yum!  But even if they didn’t do all that harm, chucking your smokes is very Honey Boo Boo.  Seriously, people who empty ashtrays on parking lots or throw butts out car windows or onto the street… please go live on another planet. Because, wouldn’t you like that, to be among all your like-minded friends, each of you knee deep in schmutz??**

Serious question.

** Of course more garbage cans and public ashtrays wouldn’t go amiss either.

Write letters, people! Ask for what’s needed.

Read the story that goes with this pic, here.

From The Litter I See Project.

this is not a review: ‘why shouldn’t i drop litter’? by mj knight

I’ve recently set out on a quest for trashy reading and have been happily led to what appears to be not only a most wonderful book on the subject of litter but to a whole line of (very smart) books being published by Smart Apple Media, primarily for schools as far as I can make out, but they’re such excellent things it would be a shame not to flaunt them more broadly.

Formatted as one of those hardcover, mini encyclopedia for kids, Why Shouldn’t I Drop Litter?  opens with a colour photo of autumn leaves on the ground and the reminder that this, too, is called ‘litter’, leaf litter.  The difference being that “Nature has ways of dealing with things that are no longer wanted…”

And with that perfectly passive aggressive irony, we enter the book by addressing a few facts about ourselves and how much we throw away every year (about five pounds per person  EVERY DAY). That *you*, personally, don’t throw that much away doesn’t matter. It’s not a problem that’s searching for someone to blame. It’s a problem that requires everyone to take responsibility. At least everyone who lives on the planet.

The pages, 32 of them, are beautifully laid out and not crowded with information in the way this style of book can sometimes be. Nor is its intention to scold or even shock. Rather, it seems only to want to remind us of the consequences of litter, that something which seems so trivial and innocuous has all kinds of horrible consequences.

Hedgehogs, for example, tend to get stuck in yoghurt containers because their quills make it impossible to back out.

Used or tangled fishing lines are often cut and left in the water (because we’re such geniuses). And if you can’t understand how this is dangerous for birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, etc…. google fishing lines/wildlife  sometime. Meanwhile, here’s a two minute story with a happy ending.

And those plastic holders that six-packs come in? If you haven’t yet heard, all kinds of birds and animals, fish too, get them wrapped around their beaks, bodies or necks and die that way. If you see one laying around, please pick it up. You may save a life, and you won’t die of cooties.

Oh, but if it’s germs you’re worried about, consider the gum that’s all over pavement everywhere. It costs between $2 and $3.50  PER PIECE to scrape off. Apparently no one has yet figured out a better way to remove it. Probably because all the money and brainpower is working on how to inhabit Mars (which will only remain gum free until we get there).

One of the biggest problems in the matter of waste is that which comes from fast food restaurants. Our convenience is apparently nature’s problem. It’s no small potatoes what we choose to support with our dollars. When we give all the money and power to fast food places we shouldn’t be asking ourselves why standards are slipping everywhere we look.

(Of note: interesting how people will throw money at the burger joint that happily pollutes the world for profit, but the same person resents paying a few extra bucks to keep a community well supplied with garbage cans.)

The problem is always us.

The solutions too.

It’s about the choices we make.

Anyway, the book is part of Smart Apple Media’s ‘One Small Step’  imprint, which seems designed to inspire engagement in our individual slivers of the world, to encourage us to understand that problems like litter are not someone else’s problem, but something we can work together to improve.

I think it would make dandy reading for families that give a hoot.


Also, if you come across books that deal effectively with the subject of litter, garbage, recycling, you get the idea… please let me know. I’m compiling a list for The Litter I See Project.

A million thanks.


hello, spring

On my way to the library I see a man pacing in his garage, smoking. I’ve seen him there before. He pretends he doesn’t notice me as I pass and I sense I’m meant to do the same. I feel sorry for those who like to indulge in a cigarette. They’re always huddled outside but no one waves, no one says Hello, fine weather, isn’t it!  the way you might to someone raking a lawn. I may have to change this pattern next time I go by.
Further along the same street, a boy, playing hockey on his own,
and the blueprints for a house interior sketched onto several squares of sidewalk.

This is the kitchen. The living room is to the left; bedrooms to the right.
Around the corner, a man in a green ski jacket cleans a ski-doo the exact same shade as his coat. When I stop a few houses down to make some notes, I look back and notice the man staring at me. He’s actually stopped cleaning the ski-doo and looks concerned about me jotting things on a notepad with a pencil. It occurs to me that if I’d stopped to look at my BlackBerry or equivalent [which I don’t own] he’d be feeling much calmer. It reminds me of my experiment at the casino, and the unexpected things that frighten people.

At the library, a woman comes up to me, says, quite out of the blue, “You must be an artist,” and I assume she means because of the hat but I ask whatever makes her think so. She says she was driving by and saw me walking, saw me stop on the sidewalk and go back and take a picture of something on the ground. “Only someone with a certain kind of eye would do that,” she says. I tell her she must have a pretty good eye herself and we laugh the laugh of strangers.

This is the picture she saw me take.
IMG_5875Tell me this doesn’t look like a monkey spitting out an apricot.

Back outside a black pick-up truck goes through a red light and from the other end of the street, totally unrelated but at the same moment, tires squeal.

A woman in white plays drums on her steering wheel and sings while waiting for the light to change.

I take a different route home and find a nest of feathers. Not a good kind of nest.

And in a nearby window, what appears to be a rather self-satisfied expression…IMG_5878
Close to home I find a bag crackling in the wind and so I detach it with the idea of collecting a few bits of the always-debris that is everywhere.
Less than ten minutes later, I’m out of bag.IMG_5884

always something

I rush outside this morning with the intention of catching a spectacular sunrise. But it’s not all sherbet colours as expected, merely yellow.
Still, I’m well into the ravine by now, cleats attached to shoes and the crusty icy snow crunching and cracking, the weird human rhythm of it propelling me onward. [Animals, by contrast, are so quiet.]
And so onward I gallump through the woods and into the park with the merely yellow sun rising to my left…
and then once I get around the big loop…
on my right.

No one about this early, or maybe because of the cold. My crunch and clack disturbing only one black squirrel and a flock of chickadees huddled among the lowest branches of a spruce.

Nothing to see but white white white…
and then a splash of blue, turquoise even.
Every time I see one of these colourful bags I wonder how it gets left behind. Does someone set it down in order to play fetch or Frisbee or chat at length with other dog walkers while sipping a Timmy’s and then simply wander off in a haze of forgetfulness? I think that’s why they’re made in these very striking ‘hello!!’ colours, so they’re hard to not see once the Frisbee is over, and yet…

There’s always something.

trashy spring thawts

Who would be a worm? Such a thankless job. Having survived all winter in frozen ground with slim pickings food-wise only to be lured to the surface by a splash of springtime rain then end up stranded on scratchy bits of pavement as sun shines and feet and wheels are everywhere carelessly about.

Worse, though, to be forgetful. Worm or human. To not have the sense you were born with. What else but a dose of dementia or dangerous daze could explain how it’s possible to find a lovely place for a cup of something and then wander off without it? Alas, beware, poor sweet forgetful soul! There are brick walls and open manholes out there…

But the saddest thing of all must surely be the human who lives the sort of life where four large bags of garbage every two weeks cannot contain its rubbish so it must sneak under cover of darkness to public receptacles where it crams its excess…

…forcing purveyors of said receptacles to take action with locks and smaller entry points. IMG_1162
(This of course does not apply to worms as they are clever enough to eat their own detritus.)

dear person who

Dear Person at Sobeys Who Left a Cup in the Cup Holder of Shopping Cart:

What is it you’re buying that takes so long and creates such a thirst that you can’t do it without knocking back a little something in the process? And while we’re at it… why, Ms/Mr Sobeys, do you encourage people to drink while they shop by installing cup holders on your otherwise fine chocolate brown carts? I would have thought it counter-productive. After all, thirsty people will buy more juice and pop and bottles of Clamato. And so forth. Those who are suffonsified will buy less. And so forth.

I’m no expert in these things but I’m guessing that if you were to add TV trays, cutlery and condiments to the carts, you would see a significant drop in deli, whole roasted chicken, and possibly other, sales.

So I’m advising you against it. Not that you asked.

But back to you, Dear Person Who Can’t Shop Without a Drink. For god’s sake, pull yourself together. Surely you can function for twenty minutes without one.

And if you can’t do that, then would you please have the courtesy to place your pacifier in the garbage (or better yet, take it home to your recycling bin) and not leave it in the cart for the next person to find… Some of us like to use that space to store our tulips.

Thanks a bunch.
And have a nice day.

a few trashy stories

So there’s the one about the guy who walks over, slow like, walks all the way over from wherever he lives on the street opposite the park where Peter and I are clearing litter from the tall grass area and creek bed that never gets mowed. It’s a pretty big space and we have a few green garbage bags already filled. So the slow walking guy stands there, hands in pockets, smiling, and says it’s great what we’re doing. He wants to know if we’re part of a group or something. (What, like the Kiwanis maybe? I’m not sure what he means). No, I say, we’re just  us. He looks momentarily confused, or perhaps it’s just gas, then rattles on about the sin of littering and how it brings down house prices. He asks if we live in the neighbourhood. Nope, I tell him, we’re on the other side of the ravine but we come through here all the time. His hands are still in his pockets. He’s wearing khakis and a golf shirt. Well, he says, bouncing a little on his toes, brightening considerably, why don’t we form a committee, get a group together to clean the area. But we are cleaning the area, I say, we do this all the time. I explain how you can’t just clean it once, it gets messy again very quickly, and how a group, nice as it would be to have company, won’t do any long-term good… better to just have many people pick up a few things on a daily basis. Or do bigger clean-ups on their own as and when they feel like it. I suggest that groups have a way of getting complicated. They argue. People will find ways to disagree about how to pick up litter. We’re not group people, I say finally… but, hey, thanks, and good luck.

He’s suddenly all crestfallen and slightly pissed off and I silently wonder if in declining the offer to whip up a litter committee what I’ve really done is dashed his hopes for whatever else was attached to the plan. (Brain-storming BBQs? Bake-sale to raise funds for garbage bags? Motivational street party with face-painting for the kids and Larry the Litter Loving clown?)

He mumbles something like yeah, right, and walks back from whence he came, hands still firmly planted in pockets.

If a committee has been formed, I haven’t noticed.
The litter continues to fall.
We continue to pick it up.
We’ve never seen the man nor his pockets again.


Then there’s the couple who sit on their porch comparing their lawn to everyone else’s. We don’t have a lawn. We’re weird. And when I walk past the porch-sitters the man says something I don’t hear and I shout back Yes, it’s a lovely day! and he repeats the thing that I don’t understand. I move closer and he says “What’s that in your hands?”

I tell him it’s litter; I say it’s amazing what you can pick up in just a short walk around the block. Ha!  I toss in some laughter to keep it light.

He makes a bad smell face, goes slightly indignant. The woman also, just stares. So now I’m standing way too close to their tidy porch holding a squashed Timmy’s cup and other bits of debris and I realize the exchange has ended, that I’ve been dismissed, and as I shuffle off I wonder how I’ve offended them. Have I caused them to feel guilty for not picking up litter? Or have I simply confirmed their suspicions about the sort-of-people-who-don’t-have-a-lawn? (Beware the Timmy’s cup, the flattened water bottle, the muddy Rothman’s pack… strange powers to unsettle the masses lurk there!)


A friend of mine gathers litter as she walks to work at King and Bay—which is brilliant because the better dressed the anti-litter warrior, the more influence they have in a 100 monkeys kind of way. (Recently I’ve noticed a guy around the corner who takes regular walks with a No Frills bag or two, filling them with rubbish. I honk as I pass. Wave and smile. I hope he doesn’t get the wrong idea.)


Last but not least is the woman who says—in her not-very-sincere-smiling way (and who insists recycling is a scam)—that it’s very nice to pick up litter and all but don’t I worry that I’m taking away the jobs of people who are employed to do such things?

Though I’ve never seen the ’employed’ scrambling through ravines… I call the Town, present my concerns, and am met with laughter.

Followed by reassurance that no one will lose jobs.

Seems there is indeed enough litter for us all.

On the street, in parks, wherever.

You can imagine my relief.