I love the Doe Hills. Just west of Whitbourne, where the highway’s gone from divided lanes to one single ribbon, the road travels through a sweep of three or four deep valleys bracketed by steep hills. Then, as you climb towards the narrowest part of the isthmus, the spruce vanishes, opening up into a broad swath of grey-stone-specked barrens, a sort of proto-arctic landscape of small round hummocks and ponds that seem suited to the word tarn.
Coming up the first long slope into the hills on Thursday, I was behind two cars, one passing the other, when the passing car suddenly swerved to avoid something in the road. I pulled right as well, before realizing that the thing in the road was actually a large pizza box — a still-square, virtually new pizza box, flung out of a moving car because someone was simply done with it.
When you’ve driven other parts of the Trans-Canada Highway in this country, the stretch from
St. John’s to Corner Brook is actually quite amazing: not only is it a well-maintained highway with good sightlines, on a winter Thursday in March it is virtually empty.
You can drive for an hour or more with no vehicles in front of you and nothing in the rearview, meeting only occasional cars and the regular beat of the heavy transport trucks.
What is startling — truly startling — is the amount trash on the road. And not old trash either — I stopped counting the bright-red, roll-up-the-rim coffee cups on the road at 25.
These aren’t many day’s-worth of trash, either: these are cups that are still fully in the round, out near the centre line of the highway, still able to roll in the particular arc measured by the curve of their rims in the slipstream of passing cars.
These are all today’s cups, thrown out of today’s windows because drivers can’t be bothered to get them to the trash.
Sometimes, the cups are fresh enough that you can still see the great fan of milky-white “double-double” that marks the point where a half-full cup of cold coffee hit the pavement at 100 kilometres an hour or so.
Piling up by the day
Now, there are plenty of places along the Trans-Canada where you can stop and find all kinds of trash poking out of the greyed and rotting snowdrifts: shingles and siding, even lumpy dark-green bags of what looks like household trash.
But there’s something about the endless parade of coffee cups, of fast-food trash, the exploded bags of paper napkins and burger boxes, that suggests we’ve got a problem far worse than the handful of truly ignorant people who plainly feel that our side roads and quarries are dumpsites for their own personal use. Sure, this is the time of year when the whole winter’s sins start to appear out of the snowdrifts — but this is not leftovers from the whole winter.
It’s leftovers from this morning, and out in the ditches, there’s no doubt the remains of yesterday’s and the day before’s and the day before that.
There is so much fugitive brand-new trash on a single day on the highway — a single, light-traffic day — that it truly looks like there’s a much larger proportion of our population that just doesn’t give a damn about this place.
I mean, sure, it’s one pizza box, and maybe, across 600 kms or so of open road, 50, maybe 60 coffee cups. But that’s one every 10 kms or so, each one the personal signature of someone who couldn’t care less.
Would you toss your half-full cup of cold coffee right onto your living room floor?
So why is it all right to throw it in everyone’s backyard? We have a beautiful, vast province. Why treat it like a dump?
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.