It was during one particularly bright and sunny day that my perpetual wanderings brought me to the boulder-beaded, tree-shaded edge of a certain river. There, amid colossal chunks of stone and the voices of rushing water and foam, I found the monster. She slipped up behind and beneath me, without my noticing, until her fetid coils were immovably cinched around my otherwise-rather-dull sensibilities. But there she was — as real as you or I seated at the breakfast table, bleary-eyed and pouring down a morning cup of joe or juice, trying to soak the gunk off our teeth and mouth corners.
Her presence came upon me slowly. Just down the road, a fresh batch of imported plastic inanities, bullwhips, hats, moccasins and postcards were being offered for sale to unsuspecting tourists and thrill seekers. Just as innocently, within the same circle of whitewashed purchasing power, a thousand or so plastic wraps and soda containers were finding their way into the hands of rambunctious children and lethargic adults — later to be blown into the aforementioned river, or carelessly discarded along the edge of one of our back roads, no doubt making a well-liked addition to the native scenery.
Why look at all that monochromatic, boring-green, woodsy-granola, tree-hugger undergrowth when you can jazz it up with a brightly colored hunk of Chinese plastic?
I don’t mean to insinuate that all this mindless littering is done by folks who don’t live here. I fear, instead, that the majority of the waste comes from the hands of our own beloved residents. I have witnessed this phenomenon several times — and always the tags read, sadly, “North Carolina.”
As I was saying; I had inadvertently become entangled in the strands of a monster. Not a ferocious, slashing, mashing beast; this was, rather, a slow-moving denizen of creeping destruction who feeds on ignorance and indifference. Her stench and flesh were all about me. Nearby, and in at least three other spots, soiled diapers wadded up into tight balls were stuffed under stones — not 20 feet from what must once have been a breathtakingly beautiful stream. Shards of broken glass jutted menacingly from the trampled clay. Aluminum cans were everywhere, obviously holding the majority vote in this community of trash. Scraps of tinfoil; plastic bags (some half-buried, others snapping and whipping in the wind); bits of unidentified metal; heaps of burnt charcoal; and fishing lines, sinkers and lures all fouled the banks and were tangled in the limbs of trees that overhung the river. And — last but not least — piles of human excrement lay topped off with napkins, like an ice-cream sundae topped off with a dainty cherry or whipped cream.
I wanted to vomit! The village of Chimney Rock should be ashamed and horrified. I mean, honestly, I found these desecrations only a mile or so from the main part of an otherwise quaint and charming spot. My fiancee and I love Chimney Rock Park. But this riverside landfill within shouting distance — disgusting! Now, I go down to the river’s edge only to pick up filth. If I just want to watch the water go by, I stand by the car — it’s harder to see the garbage from up there, and I can pretend it isn’t there (though I know all too well there’s always a fresh crop). And the really disturbing thing is that it’s not only happening here: It’s happening everywhere.
Have we really come to such a state as this? Has our destructive fetish any end? Is it not enough that we fill the rivers with nitrogen-based fertilizer runoff? Or the skies we claim to love so much with millions of tons of carbon from our cars and gigantic trucks? I really wish I could say otherwise, but the day is coming when curbing these fonts of crud will no longer be a choice: It will be a necessity. The question will not be, “What can we do to stop these things from happening?” But rather, “What must we do, to reverse what’s been done?”
“Where do we start?” you ask. Well, I am no expert on this, by any means. But it seems to me that, for us simple folks who possess no college degree and certainly no Ph.D., we can start by picking up after ourselves. I mean, for crying out loud (please excuse the cliche) — how difficult is it to pack your trash back to the car, and then back to the house and into the can, where it belongs? I know, also, that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. But it has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And when people begin to awake to the need for their intervention and voice, that’s where change begins. It starts with trash on a riverbank, and ends … well, who can tell where it may end? I can tell you this, however: The green revolution is coming, though perhaps a bit too late. Nevertheless, it is coming, and it starts with you and me, and the other gals and guys we rub elbows with daily. So, wake up! And take that dad-burned trash home with you, when you leave!
[A. Nelson lives in Hendersonville.]