“There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.”
— Irish writer Robert Wilson Lynd (1879-1949)
One of the best things about living in this province, whether you’re country folk or hardcore urbanites, is the relatively unfettered access to nature.
You don’t have to go far, even in St. John’s, to feel like you’re not in a concrete jungle, whether you’re clambering over the rocks at Cuckold’s Cove, watching fishing boats bob at Prosser’s Rock, feeling the salt spray on your face at Cape Spear or enjoying the sun-dappled light on one of the many walking trails that snake through the city.
Unlike some kids in Toronto, who have to be introduced to Mother Nature, we’ve all made her acquaintance and have grown up in her shadow.
I spent my childhood looking for fossils, climbing trees and beachcombing out around the bay. We were taught a healthy respect for nature, to appreciate its many wonders and not to destroy it in any way. Whatever you brought into the woods when you went trouting came right back out in your fishing creel or knapsack.
That’s probably why I didn’t understand why you would often stumble upon rusty coiled mattresses in the woods or hulking engine parts on the beach. Why you could find empty Vienna sausage tins and crushed pop cans stuck in the sand at the bottom of a pond.
And it’s why I still don’t understand why we are intent on soiling our own nests.
We tout our beautiful, majestic landscapes in ads to lure tourists, and yet we are the first to trash those landscapes with our junk. Let’s face it, it’s not the tourists who are throwing sofas down embankments and setting fire to stolen vehicles in the woods.
Walking on the Virginia River trail with my husband and our dog the other day, I was appalled by the abundance of trash clogging an otherwise beautiful river.
Among our inventory was a sodden sheet of aspenite, a rusting window frame, a plastic five-gallon bucket, crumpled up tin foil, an office chair, cardboard coffee cups, empty fast-food containers from Wendy’s, McDonald’s, A&W, Tim Hortons, Booster Juice and DQ.
There were plastic shopping bags strangling submerged tree branches. A glass vodka cooler bottle (which my husband was able to retrieve and carry out). Chip bags. Candy bar wrappers. Unidentified plastic objects. All cluttering up the river, endangering wildlife and ruining the view.
And that was just in the river, not to mention what we saw discarded in the woods and along the trail itself.
One disgusting stretch of refuse in the river was in clear view of the “Fish habitat: keep it clean” sign and within 20 feet of a garbage can.
Other signs posted by the City of St. John’s about bicycle riding and dog leash rules were covered in blue spray paint. The back of an interpretative sign was totally covered in graffiti, and a bridge railing was defaced with black marker — “I love you ... Josh!” (Next time, try just telling him).
Further down the trail, a high whitewashed plywood fence erected as a buffer between the Virginia River and the new long-term care facility under construction has been defaced by graffiti gangsters. Apparently, we have entered the domain of the “Roothless Villins.” They’ve written some other stuff on the wall, too, but it isn’t fit to print. One large sheet of plywood has been ripped away from the fence altogether and has been tossed into the river below.
A former school backing onto the trail has had every single window smashed out with rocks, and jagged pieces of glass are strewn on the ground.
Those lovely government tourism ads may well lure visitors to our shores, but they may be getting an entirely different kind of message once they arrive.
And the message is that some of us are too lazy to hang onto our garbage until we reach a garbage can. That we have no respect for our scenic surroundings or a network of walking trails lovingly maintained by volunteers. That we don’t care how messy our home is for visitors, nor for the state it will be in once it’s turned over to our children and their children.
That we feed our wildlife plastic and leave offerings of office furniture to the river gods. And that we never saw a pane of glass we didn’t want to smash or an unmarked surface that we didn’t want to deface.
Welcome to Newfoundland, folks — the province where too many people seem intent on turning treasure into trash.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton