Trash at stream evokes wish for kids to take over

DAN RODRICKS

April 20, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

The other day, during a hike along the Gunpowder River, we came upon a spot where the river bends and meets a small feeder creek.

There were large boulders on the bank, which is common along much of the Gunpowder. Below the rocks was a pool full of ducks.

We stopped by the big rocks to have a look, but the ducks didn't seem to appreciate the gawking.

A couple of them immediately swam out to the main current, caught it, surfed over riffles and disappeared downstream. Soon, all the ducks -- there were at least a dozen of them -- followed. They curled out of the pool, one at a time, at regular intervals, forming a long line on the water, sliding through the riffles, letting the current convey them to a place away from humans. I didn't take the snub personally. I'm glad I was there to see it. It was hilarious.

As I leaned against the rock to watch the action, I noticed a pack of Newport cigarettes. At my feet was a plastic foam cup. To the right, I noticed the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels. Others had stopped at this place, presumably to enjoy its tranquillity -- or perhaps the daily duck surfing show -- and had left these small bits of trash in Gunpowder State Park.

Over the weekend, during another expedition along Pohopoco Creek in Kresgeville, Pa., we reached a place where the cold mountain water poured over large boulders and crashed into a bed of white foam. The large, deep pool above the falls was surrounded by hemlock trees. A fabulous spot.

Except for the junked school bus in the woods nearby.

Except for the Schmidt's beer cans in the weeds at the water's edge.

Except for the mattress someone had thrown into a culvert that feeds the creek.

How anyone could visit such places and deposit their trash astounds me -- more than ever.

Of course, pointing out the obvious -- that people still litter -- and expressing outrage over it puts you, these days, in the same league with people who gripe about petty crime while their city logs almost a murder per day. Humankind is facing huge problems with population, pollution, and global warming. Who has time to get incensed about a few bits of trash along a couple of rivers?

I note here how the scale of outrage has changed in our lifetimes.

"Litterbugs" were presented to a generation as an environmental threat in the mid-1960s. Kids were encouraged to join in cleanups and to chastise their parents for dumping trash by the roadsides. But littering was overstated as a national problem; everyone knows it was actually more aesthetically displeasing than life-threatening. Yet, it made us think. Within a few years, the green movement had commenced.

And the green movement wasn't monogenerational.

Anyone who saw the kids posing questions about the environment to Al Gore this past Sunday night on Nickelodeon would conclude that their parents -- who were kids during Lady Bird's Make America Beautiful project and, a few years later, the first Earth Day -- passed along the message.

Add to the mix a generally heightened public awareness, an expansion of community recycling projects, and the election of Clinton-Gore, and you have a groundswell becoming an earthquake of support for environmental advances.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have shown themselves to be the old fogeys of environmentalism, putting down Gore, among many others, as alarmists. As guardians of the status-quo, they maintain a stiff pose in the face of problems. Conservatives believe nothing is as bad as anyone says it is, especially left-leaning eco-sensitive Earth Persons. They go to great lengths to find "researchers" who will refute claims raised by environmentalists. They dismiss alternatives to the use of fossil fuels; in fact, they willingly engage American military forces to keep the oil flowing. They ridicule the fuss about the spotted owl. They think most environmental regulation constitutes mindless government intervention.

What they don't see coming is the post-Earth Day generation, the children of the flower children, all of them the spiritual offspring of Make America Beautiful and Earth Day. More than merely expressing dread, these kids are looking for answers. Even more important, they are integrating environmental considerations into how they think and make decisions. Good. I look forward to the day when they take over.

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