Category: walking

Trash Nature, Trash Ourselves

pond

Near my daughter’s apartment in the Midd Cities, Texas, there is a small pond next to a highway. It is the only place to walk in an unconstrained natural landscape, though the pond has the feel of a very damaged place. There are few waterfowl to be found on the water, though I saw a beautiful bluebird (sialia sialis) in a tree the other day. The flora is the sort that propagates in disturbed habitats: a couple of black willows, Roosevelt Weed (bacchais neglecta), common sunflowers, asters, goldenrod, and a field of Silver Nightshade (solanum elaegnifolium), their silvery stems now carrying tiny tomato-like seeds.

Towering over the southeast corner is an immense Lotto/Power Ball billboard (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-the-lottery/2019/12/27/742b9662-2664-11ea-ad73-2fd294520e97_story.html ) that announces in huge letters the money to be won; the numbers increase daily. Below, the still lovely landscape is polluted by trash, some tossed from cars, some left by the fishermen who use the pond for occasional recreation.

There is no signage anywhere, and as the property appears neither connected to the neighboring apartment complex nor to the golf course across the street, it is fair game for trashing. In this place, at this time in history, to most people this small piece of the Earth-unappropriated, unowned, and unprotected- is unconnected to them, so they feel free to dump on it. (This is a problem for the whole area. Tarrant County is attempting to control it with citizens’ help: https://access.tarrantcounty.com/en/transportation/environmental/illegal-dumping.html)

I have been cleaning up the trash since I began using the walk around the pond for exercise and started using the leaf piles for clandestine composting of my kitchen scraps. It is clear that the majority of garbage is from food and drink containers: soda cans, plastic juice bottles, liquor bottles, styrofoam dishes, plastic silverware, Starbuck cups, plastic bags of every size, most advertising some sort of fast food: chicken wings, fries, burgers, tacos, etc. And while this pollution is degrading the landscape, it has already done the damage to the people who have bought and eaten this cheap and unwholesome food (diabetes and obesity are diet related and increasing in Texas: https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/annual/measure/Obesity/state/TX)!

This is my point: every one of us, every human being is an integral part of the environment in which we are embedded. Our own personal environment is as susceptible as the greater enveloping environment to being exploited and ruined, and by the same forces of greed and ignorance.

A society like the one here in Texas which denies climate change and supports the exploitation of the land is the same one that sees people as being only a means to make money, without taking responsibility for the destruction of people’s health or well being.

Without a connection to the natural world, without an understanding of the laws of Nature, how do we instill in ourselves, our society, and our culture a love and care for the natural world and for our bodies which are just an extension of that world?! To be blind to the interdependence of  the land, the air, the water, the insects, the birds, the plants, the microbes, and ourselves is to be blind to the reality of life itself!

 

 

Artisans of the Common Good

old shoes 1 web
My walking shoes: L.L.Bean sneakers & Ecco leather ties. Pastel on watercolor wash.

I got a very interesting comment recently on my post about the difficulty of walking around Dallas, and I have been thinking about it since the New Year.  My reader noted that the folks in Dallas love their cars, but also that they need the cars in order to commute in a spread out city during the summer months when the temperature is often in the triple digits.

Fair point, but why make the solution to commuting, during the four months when it is unhealthy to be outside walking most of the day, fit every day the rest of the year? (It has been -11 degrees F. recently where I come from in the North so you can only imagine how happy I am walking around Dallas in your delightfully comfortable 55 degrees F.!) What would Dallas look like, and what could some strategies for encouraging walking be, if we didn’t assume an easy one size fits all means of transportation?

Texas just got ranked one of the lowest states (34th) in the nation for good health with 33% of the population obese, so the question is not a trivial one! But for most of us, we use the infrastructure that is in place, and don’t really notice it unless we come from another society with alternate ways of getting around. We tend not to think about how our world would be different (and better!) if we, as individuals, make different choices.

And as we change our lives, the infrastructure would begin to change too. Right now in Dallas, the highways that connect parts of the city are in good repair, but the smaller local streets have been neglected as the city endeavours to save money. It makes sense to walk locally if only to spare your car the damage of negotiating streets with a lot of potholes! If more people walked to do the errands that are now done by car (grocery shopping with a pull cart, picking up dry cleaning, going to the library, etc.); and used walking to get some of the exercise that either they are not getting, or that they are relegating to the time at the gym, the routes between destinations would improve: better sidewalks, more time to cross busy larger streets, and perhaps most important, drivers being aware that there are going to be pedestrians sharing the streets with them!

As David Brooks wrote in his op-ed piece, for the New York Times, recently, on Pope Francis’ New Year’s Eve homily: “the people who have the most influence on society are actually the normal folks, through their normal, everyday gestures: being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly. The pope called such people, in a beautiful phrase, ‘the artisans of the common good.’ ” Choosing to walk, choosing to quite literally “step outside the box” makes you an artisan of the common good!