I took my walk today at about noon, taking my usual route around the perimeter of the former Alameda Navy base, where we live. I don’t know if it’s this sort of endless nuclear winter we’re enduring (hello, climate change!), or the sight of one laden cargo ship after another in the Estuary, packed to the top with containers from China and other shores. What are they full of? Oh, maybe useful stuff like light bulbs, nuts and bolts and cloth, but just as likely they’re filled with useless party-supply gewgaws, little bits of rubbish meant as novelty or gag gifts (plastic poo, perhaps?). Toys, baby bottles, computer equipment? Probably all of these things, much of it plastic, I’m guessing.
So the wind blows cold and gray out at Alameda Point, ships come and go, and little bits of stuff flutter about: potato chip bags, screw tops from the ubiquitous water bottle, the abandoned water bottles themselves, and the flotsam and detritus of people’s modern lives. A sun-dried condom. A sodden cigarette pack. A baby’s teething ring. Broken CDs. Yet another smashed Bic lighter. Endless knots of fishing twine. And always plastic bags. Always. Really, people?
Walking my usual path — or any path, on just about any street — seems always to lead me to people’s litter. I often take a bag along and collect the returnable bottles and cans. I can say I’ve had a 10-cent walk if I found two bottles, or a 30-cent walk if I found six. Some walks are downright profitable. I’ve had days where I had to abandon the full bag and start another bag, which I’d find blowing loose nearby, returning to fetch the full bag of bottles later by bike or car. Yes, the denizens of Alameda Point, the Antiques Faire, Bayport and Marina Village — or passers-through — really do just throw amazing amounts of crap and crud on the ground. People everywhere do this — East End, Bay Farm, Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, Petaluma, Manhattan or Harlem. There’s no place that’s really clean anymore.
Do I sound disgusted? I am. It’s many days since the old television commercial of the weeping Native American, and we’re supposed to have learned something since then. Is it all that hard to cart your stupid garbage home, or find a trash can?
These thoughts take me to a darker, angrier, more selfish place, where why should I care what other people do? Why should I try? Why do I care about anything or anyone but me and mine? I can’t save the planet by myself. No one around here (wherever “here” is) cares. Why should I? And I find myself just a step away from the brink, of turning my back on other humans, as happened on this island just a week ago — just not caring enough to do the right thing. And that thought was enough to stop my slide into real gloom and bitterness.
There’s plastic fluttering and drifting all around us. It’s coming in by the shipload, being forced into our lives by manufacturers and retailers, and apparently by osmosis. Despite the family knowing the new rules and our mission for the month of June and beyond, our little pile of plastic bags is piling up. I just received a package from eBay that’s wrapped and cushioned in plastic. It’s in The Boy’s backpack, on my fruit and vegetables (damn those little stickers!) and from what I read, it’s even inside of us. (Bisphenal-A, aka BPA, is in the urine of 93% of people over age 6, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control.)
I could kick the empty beer cans and water bottles out of my way instead of picking them up, but then I’d be part of the problem instead of part of the solution. I may be just one granola-eating treehugger, but I want a healthy planet for my kids and grandkids, and you know what? I want that for your kids and grandkids, too.
Just something to think about while the sun tries to break through June gloom.