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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Dec 7, 2014

DianneErskineHellrigelI’ve always wanted to live a completely sustainable life. My idea was to move to a ranch in Idaho or Montana. I’d have an orchard, a huge vegetable garden and stock animals, especially chickens.

I used to love to fish, but now, I can’t kill anything at all. I even try to save bugs when they are in peril.

This is the one flaw in my plan. I’d have to have someone else hunt and fish. I know I’d become too attached to my cows to send them to slaughter; someone else would have to do that. But I’d still love to have the wide open spaces, where I could hear the coyotes at night and feel safe in a log house by the fire.

That was my dream of being sustainable since I was 20. Now, when I look at sustainability, I address things like getting rid of plastic bags and all of the packaging we see on the grocery shelves.

I’d like to go back to a time when we didn’t have plastic – before the ‘50s. I loved it when the bakery trucks would come to us, without any packaging. In my house, my mother always made the fresh baked goods and in fact made everything from scratch. Nothing was preserved or packaged. I try to follow that rule, but sometimes convenience becomes a factor and time is always an issue.

log-cabin-w-stone-porchI hate trash. It infuriates me when I see trash carelessly tossed out on our freeways and water bottles and wrappers left behind on the trails. Everyone needs to do his part in keeping our country clean or soon we will be buried in trash like India is.

My trip to India really opened my eyes. There was trash everywhere. I was walking in the middle of a street with trash up to mid-calf, and a rat bit me on the ankle. I would not like to live like that. They are overwhelmed with trash. Whenever I see piles of trash along the freeways, I think we are headed in that direction. Do we really want to live in a third world country?

There is a limit as to what the government officials can do. It’s up to you to do your part, too. If you don’t leave trash behind, don’t toss it out of your car or don’t throw it out on the street, then they won’t need to charge YOU taxes to hire someone to pick it up. It’s that simple. You carried it when it was full, so there’s no reason you can’t carry the empty wrapper back home and place it in a trash can.

Rubbish is seen in the street during a protest in downtown NaplesI’ve recently admired the leadership that certain companies have shown by creating “plastic type” packaging that is biodegradable. When someone tosses that wrapper, it degrades in six months instead of ten to 100 years. It’s a step in the right direction.

We need to start thinking outside the box and come up with environmental solutions. We need to be creative enough to come up with systemic changes, and we must continue to evolve, always keeping the environment and sustainability in mind. We need radical change if we are to protect our health and the health of the environment.

My thoughts keep going back to the farm culture, to organic farming, co-operative exchanges, and a simpler lifestyle. I have a friend who gives me some of his excess fruits and vegetables. If we all did that, we could eat more organic foods that are fresh and wholesome without hazardous chemicals and with no packaging.

img_3447We also need to teach our children respect. Respect for each other, for the family, for society, for law enforcement and for the environment. This one word would go a long way in solving so many problems our society faces today. As parents, we need to lay down the law to our children, and we need to enforce it.

A recent example is a young woman I saw with a tiny baby. She changed the diaper and tossed it into the river. That diaper ended up in a reservoir. I told her to grab the diaper and throw it in the trash can that was 10 feet away. I cannot print her two-word response, but you can guess what it was. That young woman had no respect for me or for the environment, and undoubtedly she will not be teaching her precious child about respect. I am sure she didn’t travel far from home into the forest, so she probably was drinking that same water in which the diaper was floating.

Tossing trash has consequences. The Community Hiking Club has spent years picking up loads of dumped trash in the Santa Clara River. I’m not talking of a few wrappers or plastic bags here. We’ve picked up four chopped cars, gallons of toxic paint cans, yard waste, three hot tubs, hundreds of pounds of broken glass and much more. The river is usually dry in this area, but it is actually still flowing below the surface. And when it rains, the rain will pick up all of these toxic materials and carry them down the river to our aquifer, and then you drink it. And then you probably complain about the water quality.

We have to meet federal standards – but just how much arsenic do you want to drink? How about cadmium? While so many parts per million are OK according to federal standards, in my book, none of it is OK. I’m a purist. I’m very health conscious. I don’t want to drink water from reservoirs that have diapers floating on top. I don’t want to look at graffiti. I don’t want to drive down a freeway breathing polluted air and looking out at open space covered in trash. And I don’t want to be offended by fouled-mouthed people who have no respect.

It is time we all became responsible. Take a stand and stick to your guns. Buy from fresh farms, buy locally, buy from stores that make you bring your own reusable bags. Don’t litter. When you see litter, pick it up. Someone has to do it. Make that someone you. Encourage your family and friends to help. Clean up your neighborhood, your local trail, or volunteer with Caltrans to do a little segment of the freeway. Come help the Community Hiking Club do a trash cleanup in the river or a micro-trash clean up in the forest to benefit the condors.

In 2015, make your resolution something that will benefit society and the environment. Be a better person, and bring out the best in others. I’m counting on you. We’re all counting on you.

 

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Abigail says:

    Look into Sweden. You will be shocked – they only have 4% of their trash go into a landfill. The USA is WAY behind and we should be ashamed for not fixing this sooner.

    Good article :-)

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