These are pictures of my “Lake Office.” That “office” consists of two concrete picnic tables erected sometime in the 70’s beside a local lake. It is a place I have spent much much time visiting with others, reading, and writing Sunday messages.
But I hadn’t been there in a couple of weeks and when I went there today, I found the place had been trashed. It had become a littered monument to Sonic Drive-In, Subway, Budweiser, and Marlboro Lights in the box. Mr. Trojan had also left a few calling cards.
So I picked up. Normally I do that each time I’m there, and day by day it’s not a difficult task. But today I filled a small dumpster. There are about 118,000 cigarette butts remaining to be raked up but that’s for tomorrow.
Before I began:
Litter is the ugliest but- in reality- least harmful of the many things we humans have thought to do with the surface of the planet. Deforesting it, paving over it, pouring on it everything from chemical manufacturing wastes to Arkansas chicken poop, burying under it whatever can be buried including nuclear waste and formaldehyde- filled bodies enclosed in oaken coffins which are themselves enclosed in sealed concrete vaults, piling on it newspapers, Styrofoam, and other plastic which will still be recognizable for the convenient crap it once was for the next 30,000 to one million years, and digging into it constantly so I can drive my car a quarter mile to the grocery store or burn fossilized carbons to keep my TV on- those are planetary superficialities with deep, deep ramifications. Litter of the Sonic and Subway kind is just aesthetically injurious.
But it makes me crazy.
Richard Bode, in Beachcombing at Miramar, writes this: “I am infuriated by these empty cans, disillusioned by the abuse, the flagrant insensitivity to the beauty of the land. And yet, despite the evidence all about me, I can’t let go of my conviction that the quest for beauty is as inherent in the individuals who litter..as it is in me, as it is in every woman, every man.
“Why do they do it? Why do they carry their beer cans to this lovely isolated beach when they could just as easily sit on a city curb or beside a garbage dump? I believe it is because they have no choice. They are drawn to the beauty of this place; this is where they have to be.
“But when their party is over, it’s as if some imp of the perverse takes over- as if they have to prove to others..that they are immune to the force of nature that lured them here. To behave otherwise would be a tacit admission that they feel a connection to the land, an attachment to the sea and sand, a bond with what they perceive as sacred in the world.”
I think (I have NO data to back this thought up, by the way), but I think that men are the primary perps of most litter. It is feminine to like pretty things, yes? It shows sensitivity to want things to look nice, correct? Thus (follow me here), intentional mess-making becomes one more way for a man to assert his hyper- heterosexuality (he hopes!).
To extend what may be proving to be an impossibly complex metaphor, isn’t littering akin to a dog claiming territory by peeing on every vertical object he passes? Isn’t that grand sweep of Sonic litter from the picnic table onto the floor of my office a goofy form of arm wrestling at the bar, wherein the guy with the biggest biceps has first dibs on the new waitress?
OK, I’ll stop. Call me gay, but here’s what the place looked like about an hour after I arrived: