A sign at the gate of the Goose Bay landfill says ‘No Scavenging,’ but that doesn’t bother the largest black bear many people have ever seen.
The bear is famous among regular visitors. A summer of feasting on refuse has turned the already large animal into an enormous beast.
Its massive head appears tiny because it’s nestled in big pillows of fat. The bear’s back arches high above the ground, but its belly hangs so low it brushes the dirt.
Abnormally large black bears may attract attention, but they don’t provide a lasting show. This one spends most of its time with its head shoved inside a plastic bag — no doubt gorging itself on take-out chicken, or on cold microwaved pizza.
Most people gawk briefly and then drive away, but I tarry — although not for the wildlife.
Like the bear, I am not above scavenging at a dump although, unlike the bear, I draw the line at food. I am also able to read the sign, so I know I’m breaking landfill law.
Scavenging wasn’t always forbidden at this big dump in the woods, but that was before municipal authorities got the fear of Insurance put into them.
A great number of people used to rescue a surprising amount of perfectly usable furniture, clothing, toys, books, dishes, tools, antiques and electronics that should never gone to the landfill in the first place, but the activity was deemed too dangerous.
Back then the dump also generated income for as many as a dozen men who spent their days collecting deposit money from empty bottles and cans that people were throwing into trash bins.
You could once see their pickup trucks parked among the piles, the boxes filled with valuable empties. The pickers wandered sticks in hand, poking plastic bags to spill the contents open. They’d take the recyclables and leave the rest for seagulls, crows and bears.
The cans and bottles are still there, but the recyclers are gone. They were the easiest to ban when the landfill started to enforce the new regulations.
The authorities promised to hire a company that could remove valuables from the garbage stream without offending the insurance brokers, but it never happened.
Human scavengers still rescue what they can, but now they mostly go when the dump is closed, following the same paths around the fences that the bears use.
Scavenging during operating hours remains possible, but the picker has to watch out for the bulldozer used to enforce the rules.
Sometimes if you show too much interest in something the spot quickly gets flattened.
At any rate, the pickings at the dump aren’t what they used to be. With the base almost empty there are fewer families coming and going and less good stuff getting thrown away.
That day I glanced over the refuse, but saw nothing of interest — just the household trash the big bear clearly loved. I was going to leave without bounty until I saw a Newfoundland flag tangled in some scrap wood.
The only other flag I’ve found at a dump was a bright red one with a yellow hammer and sickle hand-painted in the upper left corner.
I was in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dump at Dessau was as wide open as the Labrador landfill prior to the insurance regime.
It mainly served a city of 100,000, but it was also used by 30,000 Soviet Army soldiers.
The year was 1990 and their base was being evacuated. Everything they weren’t taking with them — uniforms, gas masks, tools, documents and flags — went straight to the dump.
The Soviet Union was collapsing and its soldiers were abandoning their most sacred symbols.
Their once-respected flag would soon no longer even have a country.
Discovering Newfoundland’s flag in a Labrador dump doesn’t portend the fall of an empire, but it makes one wonder.
There are proper ways to respectfully dispose of worn flags and throwing them into the garbage isn’t one of them.
Only contempt could consign it to such a place. If that’s so, the governors might like to be nicer to their overseas colonies — before it’s too late.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.