I’d originally planned this post for Earth Day, but then thought better of it. That days spotlight was on school children planting flowers, environmental groups holding rallies, and millions of people engaged in earthbound services. I didn’t want to come off as scathing or cynical toward all of that eco-awareness and positivity; even if it was like many holiday messages, celebrated then forgotten.
But a little time has passed now so I’d like to share a brief story. This was a view I had from the flipside of the coin; a glimpse at how some people treat our planet the other 364 days a year…
It was Day 2 of my visit to Yosemite National Park, and I was still spellbound and in awe at my surroundings. The January air had warmed to eighteen degrees and felt downright balmy compared to the sub-zero temps of the night before. Sunlight glittered off snow-covered tree branches and the broad meadows of the valley interior lay concealed beneath their winter blanket. Even on this Saturday, which had drawn a sizeable crowd to what is one of our nation’s most heavily visited icons, it was still possible to seek out your own piece of solitude. I stopped at a roadside pullout and walked down to the river just beyond sight and sound. There I marveled at the tranquility, the mosaic of ice clinging to rocks at water’s edge and the still, frozen silence broken only by subtle gurgles from the stream below. It wasn’t hard to imagine being deep within pristine wilderness, lost in any epoch of time, and to simply let the troubles of the world slip away. Unfortunately, on my walk back to the car this all came crashing down.
I first didn’t want to believe my eyes; then grew sick and angry knowing that I had to. There, in a roadside snow bank sat two disposable diapers. Tightly wrapped and frozen solid, probably left there the night before. It was a heinously offensive discovery on so many levels; a display of complete and profound ignorance and total lack of ecological and aesthetic respect. The fact that a person could place such value on olfactory comfort or other concerns centered on the ambient quality within their cars interior, enough to drop DISPOSABLE DIAPERS SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE OF THE MOST IDYLLIC SETTINGS ON THE PLANET, instead of taking the time* to find an appropriate point of disposal is just despicable. It’s disgusting. It’s insulting. It makes me feel ashamed to be a human.
For the record, it’s estimated that a disposable diaper will take 500 years to decompose. (And that’s only the “organic” material- the plastic shell itself won’t go away, it will only break apart into smaller pieces.) Five hundred years is a long time. Five hundred years ago, some of the giant sequoias in nearby Mariposa Grove were mere saplings. Five hundred years ago, the Miwok tribe inhabited this valley and the waters ran clear and free. Today, that’s part of what draws us to Yosemite. It offers a connection to our natural heritage; a wonder filled realm that allows us to look into the past. Even though there is development within the park, the area is protected in hopes of preserving this legacy. Places like this are rare; those that offer a final glimpse of the landscape as it stood before being ravaged by modern man.
And five hundred years from now visitors can catch a final glimpse of where some heartless 21st century imbecile left their packaged baby shit…
What’s most frustrating is the utter disregard it took to leave this here. Not that it’s right to litter anywhere, and relegating such trash to be buried in landfills isn’t a responsible solution… but here? This is The Garden. It is a paradise more beautiful than man could ever dream of. Even to suggest that when the light hits just right you would swear you’re stepping into a painting is misleading, as places so magical must be the source of all inspiration. If people are capable of dropping a dirty diaper in the middle of Yosemite Valley, then what hope is there?
Yes, as I write this I do tinge with subconscious guilt. I know that I’m not perfect, and that in the environmental balance I am a contributor to many problems. One needs to point no further than the fact that on the day in question I was in my car two thousand miles from home. But I’m trying to improve my habits and in that effort take the liberty to draw and play the “Us vs. Them” card. I usually try to avoid such a mindset, but in extreme cases like this I find it necessary to separate myself from anybody who would behave in this manner. I hope in this situation most would.
And it’s not as simple as “I don’t litter in the park,” it’s a matter of “I respect the Earth and while I’m not perfect, I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to be more mindful. I understand the importance of the time in which we live and want to make the right decisions for the planet and for those who come next.”
Of course if you’re going to make this distinction, you have to live up to it. With that, I’m willing to endure minor inconveniences or unpleasantries and even overcome abject laziness in the name of a greater good.
I’m willing to take action in order to preserve the inspirational opportunity of experiencing an untainted landscape for others, even after some jackass has taken it from me.
I’m willing to spend four minutes* with dirty diapers in my car if it means preventing their chemical composition from slowly eroding into the Merced River and leaching into the Yosemite Valley ecosystem for the next five centuries.
I’m willing to keep learning, keep improving my own habits, keep striving to further distance myself from this type of behavior so when I gripe I don’t have to acknowledge the irony and it lessens the hypocritical undertones of knowing that I’m leaving an impact as well.
And I’m willing to walk away from soul crushing examples such as this without giving up hope for our capacity to change. To instead acknowledge that there is a separation in mentalities. To know that for every person of ignorance there is someone else out there trying to tip the balance.
It’s a distinction and a decision, and one we can’t just declare but must prove in our own actions.
So which will it be… Are you one of us, or one of them?
*Yes, that’s right, four minutes. It took FOUR MINUTES for me to find a garbage can and throw someone else’s child’s diapers away for them.