On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Littering for a Cause
Some people overtly proclaim their concerns about conservation, environmental awareness, and anti-littering. Others practice low key conservation and likely are just as effective, or ineffective, as the circumstances permit. The Footloose Forester belonged in the second group of conservationists who consciously practiced litter control, recycling and overall conservation of natural resources without fanfare but always with awareness. Ironically, sometimes the recycling and conservation of natural resources appeared to be littering. His past history of conservation practices needs some explanation.
When he was a Recreation Patrolman on the El Dorado National Forest in California, the Footloose Forester was responsible for trash collection as part of his duties at the Wrights Lake Campground in the high Sierras. He was also indirectly responsible for maintaining the pristine appearance of the roadways and trails in and around Wrights Lake; and the hiking trails that radiated out for miles in every direction from his base of operations. When summer rolled around, hauling trash became a priority duty of the Footloose Forester who also answered to the title of Campground Manager or Park Ranger.
Litter control and recycling at Wrights Lake by way of trash collection was mostly confined to summer months because the road into the high Sierra campground didn’t open up until the snow melted in late May or early June. When the road opened up, the campers, picnickers, and hikers showed up. Alas, during recent decades of global warming, there was no way to predict just when the road might open. The US Forest Service that maintained the campground didn’t take pains to force the issue—when the road was passable word got around, and when it was impassable that word also got around. At 6,700 feet above sea level, Wrights Lake was truly alpine in many respects, and heavy snowfall was not the least of the restrictions to seasonal access.
During the seasonally busy summertime when the campgrounds and popular picnic ground swelled to capacity and beyond, hauling trash was a twice weekly routine and he had a pick-up truck to make the short hauls to an open dump site fairly convenient. But when he went by foot along the trails and miles away from the campground, he had to stuff whatever garbage and other trash he spotted into his backpack or into his pockets. Mostly it was an occasional candy wrapper discarded by an unthinking youngster not yet attuned to the taboo of littering, or a food label that did not get disposed of properly by hikers. Burying empty food tins deep enough to discourage animals that are attracted to the smell was usually good enough to keep hiking trails and scenic stops free of visible debris, and it was accepted practice. Unfortunately, not everyone was diligent enough to erase the marks of their presence, so the Footloose Forester made periodic patrols along hiking routes to police whatever he found there.
The trash from trails that he carried back got dumped into an open trench that served the Wrights Lake Campground, along with the twice weekly haul from the 40+ camping sites and large picnic area. It was more pleasant to think of the open trench as a trash dump, but when the campground got full, the haul sometimes contained mushy, smelly garbage.
A neighborhood black bear regularly visited the garbage dump when the odor of food enticed him in. He was part of the natural recycling process so was not unwelcomed, except when he tore apart the heavy paper trash bags looking for food inside. On one occasion when the Footloose Forester snuck up on him at sunset, the bear was seen standing on his rear legs with his head completely inside a paper trash bag. He was shaking food particles from the bottom of the bag by lifting the bag over his head. It was a hilarious sight, so much so that when the bear heard the Footloose Forester laughing out loud, he lowered himself to all fours and scampered away. Although most times he ripped the bags apart with his claws, he did not make much of a mess inside the wide trench; besides he was content to eat his snacks on site and did not cart food filled bags away from the area. Looking back, picking up litter and hauling the garbage were acts of maintaining the natural beauty of the area and controlling pollution; and the bear helped to recycle the food resources, lest they go to waste.
With recycling on his mind, the Footloose Forester adopted a routine that he practiced for many years hence. Conservation of some selected items to later recycle became part of his personal environmental ethic, but was done without discussing with others why he did it. Put bluntly, he littered the highways in Cape Verde and in Haiti with food wastes that he conserved at one stage, and recycled at a later stage.
The process went like this: he often carried bananas in his pick-up truck as a quick snack, or even as the only lunch that he might find in small village markets. Bananas were usually plentiful, cheap, and convenient. After eating a banana while driving, the Footloose Forester saved the skins to feed the domestic animals that he knew he would see along the road. There were always a few goats at some point along the roads in Cape Verde and he was amazed that when you tossed out a banana peel, they descended on it just as soon as they saw it. It never failed, the banana peels were devoured within seconds. When there were no goats on the open road, he saved the banana peels for the goats owned by a handful of villagers whose houses were close to the road. Oftentimes the goats saw him coming.
In Haiti the goats seemed just as hungry and they immediately went for the banana peels just as soon as they saw them. In addition, the occasional pig that was seen along the roadways in Haiti also seemed to be fond of banana peels. They also ate mango peels, so the Footloose Forester saved the peels of his occasional mango. In fact, mangoes constituted a large part of the normal diet of pigs in Haiti because there were lots of mango trees in Haiti. The Footloose Forester practiced recycling of natural resources by recycling his garbage. And the goats and the pigs were happy.