Litter in the Park, a Cross on the Trashcan: A Reminder to Care for Our Places and Our Planet

Angle Lake Park has been a part of my place for a long time. I've lived within walking distance from this park for most of my life, and it has a special place in my heart. It's spacious, has a great lakefront and dock, beautiful trees, a water spray park and two playgrounds. It's neat and well-maintained.
Except when it isn't. 

Our last several family trips to the park, I've been more than a little annoyed to find wrappers, bags and several other kinds of trash, strewn about the playground area. For me, it's one of those things I can't just overlook. Maybe part of it is the increased responsibility I'm working to exhibit in other areas of my life. Maybe part of it is how beautiful the park until it's cluttered with litter. Whatever the reason, I have to do something about it. I think is has to do with my "ownership," my having a stake in the use and enjoyment of the park.

I live here. What happens to the park affects me and my neighbors. It affects the wildlife. I saw a duck obsessively trying to swallow on a wrapper, and could never get close enough to do something about it. I don't want broken glass where children should be able to run and play in bare feet and in sandals. I'm at this park on almost a daily basis and am thankful for such a beautiful and well-designed public space, so I want to take care of it. I love running on the beach, jumping off the dock to swim, wading in the shallows with my kids, playing on swings and slides, firing up some food on the grill, and just sitting on the grass picking flowers.  It is just disappointing that our collective care is lacking. It's a public park. Legally speaking, I don't "own" any part of it. These commons are beautiful and enjoyable for anyone and everyone. It is as much mine as it belongs to someone else. I don't know why people litter. Whether it be intentional or thoughtless, I know that it affects everyone.

As I made my rounds in the playground area, filling a Doritos bag with candy wrappers, plastic water bottles, popsicle sticks and Capri Sun pouches, I came over to the waste bin and was surprised to see a silver sticker in the shape of a cross. This stopped me in my tracks and caused me to think a number of thoughts and questions in quick succession:

This trash can is here for a reason, to contain waste and keep it off the ground. I like how the use of the trash can protects this space, but seeing how much waste is on the ground reminds me that our waste doesn't stop at the trash can. This park is just a microcosm of our consumptive human actions and our land-use patterns. To me, seeing the cross is not just an invitation to boldly throw trash where it's been thrown before, but to turn to new ways of inhabiting our space—individually and collectively. What does this park have to say to us about our care for all the commons? What does it say about our care for the cosmos? What does it look like to care for this place and for our cosmos? What does it mean for me to live in a more gentle, loving and caring way for my neighborhood, community, environment and planet? 

I believe we have a call, an invitation, to be stewards of our places and our planet. Human beings have the capacity to be the most destructive, self-absorbed creatures on the planet—but we also have the capacity to be the most creative, other-aware geniuses. At this moment in my life, I've got my antennas up for information and ideas, I'm working to create new habits of health, and I'm choosing to slow down and appreciate the abundance and the beauty that is always before me. I'm looking for ways to consume less, to create more, and to live in a state of grateful enoughness. I desire a smaller footprint, to leave no trace, and to leave places better than I found them. My desire is for the enjoyment of being a human on planet earth, active and outside, and for that sacrament to form in us all a care for our places. 

Together, we can cultivate enjoyment of our place while stewarding it. Together, we can face a littered park and littered world and begin to clean up our messes. Together, we can share, and we can care. 
Benjamin FaderComment