Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves

Column 4: Published in the June 16th issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Unless we count the times a bear or varmint gets into our garbage, there is no curb-side trash collection at the Angle. Recycling is even more of a beast. We have a designated place to dispose of frying oil, used batteries and propane cylinders, old mattresses and furniture, dead appliances and every kind of scrap wood and metal you can imagine. Glass, aluminum, tin cans and old paint all have their place.

But plastic, the material that most desperately needs to be recycled, has no nearby home to retire too. Mostly to appease my conscious, my household has started saving and hauling the appropriately numbered plastic containers the hour+ drive into Warroad to use the recycling facilities beneath the big blue water tower.

We keep vast quantities and varieties of unrecyclable plastic bags and containers in our home and use them however we can, but more plastic than I care to admit still ends up in the trash. Every time I throw away a plastic bag, I picture it tumbling in the wind all the way to the coast to join its petroleum-based brethren in the massive trash swirl in the Pacific Ocean. Harder to think about for me is the fact that more animals and marine life than we’ll ever know are incapacitated or killed by our errant trash.

I moved here from Seattle, where everyone is snobbishly greener than thou. It comes from the best-intentioned, most organic of places, of course. Chief Seattle, in his long-forgotten wisdom, once said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Unless you are a hermit deep, deep in the woods – which used to be possible here at the Angle, not so anymore – it’s impossible to live a plastic-less life. It is everywhere, in everything. Those little scrubbing microbeads in the beautifully marketed toothpastes and face and body washes? Yeah, they’re plastic. And they can’t be recycled. Once they’ve gone down the drain, there is literally no way to remove them from the environment. Wildlife aren’t just ingesting them; we are as well now too.

Kinda sorta makes you want to be a hermit, doesn’t it? If you live at the Angle, you most certainly have the hermit gene running through your blood. Here, when the time calls for it, and far beyond what is healthy in some cases, we can hunker down in our homes and our stories, avoid nearly all social interaction if we so choose and put that time to work on dissolving whatever is clunking around in our minds. Hermiting is not glamorized as it may have been thirty years ago when stories of the Angle’s Philosophical Hermit were newspaper worthy. “Uncle Houston,” my siblings and I called him. I remember him getting ice cream in his beard after he’d eaten a third heaping helping of Grandma Grace’s spaghetti.

We nearly had another true hermit resident this past winter. Through the January cold and into our lives he walked, on foot–as walking tends to happen–bringing with him a new conversation topic and a new cause for uproar in our tiny little nest of a community. “The Woodsman,” we called him. He could talk for hours. He used plastic bags. When he wasn’t borrowing the shelter of the church building or looking for $10 worth of chores to do, he lived in a den he had built in the woods. Fire was cancer-causing, so he used body heat alone to weather the cold nights. The next day he’d walk down to Jerry’s for a cancer-free double cheeseburger and fries.  

I was so rooting for him to settle in and play his cards right, partly because I root for people and partly because I love a good story and an interesting character. He seemed a lost young man with glimpses of solid Angle potential. But as more and different stories emerged, background checks revealed and personal interaction confirmed, our exclusively inclusive community realized he didn’t fit.  it was decided by the squeaky wheels that his time here was up. We ran him out of “town” politely and humanely. I cried. And then I felt grateful to not draw the curtains and lock the doors once more.

At the very least, it was a far cry better than how we handle a nuisance bear getting into our garbage. But there I go getting political again…

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