Trash Talking and Trail Walking Come Together
Throwing out the Welcome Mat
Trash talking and trail walking are two unlikely partners that come together out of necessity rather than choice.
It’s easy to romanticize nature trail walking. As soon as you enter any green space, whether it’s forest, meadow, or mountain, there’s a sense of connection. Mother Earth extends an unconditional welcome to whoever follows the instinct to explore the sacred spaces of the natural world.
Any time outdoors usually leaves me feeling a combination of grounded, energized, and at peace. Yet there’s a shady, trashy side. Lately, it’s reflected in the increasing amount of trash I’ve noticed on the trails.
This year for Earth Day I purchased a set of kitchen tongs and have started collecting it as I walk. After all, the trees can’t bend over and pick it up. Besides, what are they going to do with it if they could? Usually, I fill half a grocery bag with an odd assortment of wipes, cigarette butts, snack bar wrappers, masks, water bottles, and dog poop bags. These didn’t accidentally drop out of backpacks.
The amount of trash increases proportionately with proximity to urban and popular areas. Last week I walked a section of the Bruce Trail through a heavily travelled tract in Niagara and was astounded at the volume of trash. I came off that trail crestfallen and drained. Paradoxically, another walker on the same section of trail that day posted a picture of masses of trilliums, commenting on how thrilled he was with the walk. Had he not seen what I’d seen? Or noticed the trails desecrated where bicyclists had created berms on a hillside where they weren’t even supposed to be? Where they’d created deep ruts and damaged sensitive tree roots with aggressive tire treads?
Real Hikers Don’t Leave Trash
On a more remote walk a week earlier, a pair of women, self-professed seasoned hikers, commented on the problem. “It’s not the real hikers who leave trash,” said the one. I smiled. It’s true, there isn’t much trash in areas that are harder to access. Yet as I later followed the path they’d taken out of the bush, I picked up bits of wrapper and an empty jug that once held Prestone radiator coolant. They hadn’t left it but they’d been okay to walk by.
Others that pass by on the trail have assumed I’m foraging. I wouldn’t know what to look for. Apparently, foraging is also contentious as people help themselves to what’s there without a thought to reciprocity. They don’t consider whose property it is, how much should be taken, and what should be harvested to avoid damaging the plant or the ecosystem, or who’s already harvested from that area.
I don’t profess to know the root causes or the solutions. I know the answer isn’t in putting up more signs. Nor is it in shaming or posting photos of how many bags of trash were collected from a particular section of trail.
Stopping Trash Talking
On the other hand, maybe the answer is reestablishing our sense of rootedness and addressing our feeling of separation from the earth. At its heart, leaving trash is no different than overusing and depleting natural resources. Both indicate a world where we’ve lost our line of sight with the impact our actions have on the earth. We’ve lost sight of who we are and how we’re connected to all other beings.
Even on the darkest, trashiest days, nature offers hope. She is resilient, patient, and if we leave her alone, knows how to heal herself—and us. By spending more time in nature on foot, some of it alone, she’ll nurture and heal us in profound ways as well.
The invitation from the forests and conservation areas is unconditional. Get out there and explore your home. We won’t stop all the trash talking and littering in a day, but we can do our part in our communities. Not just by picking up trash but by getting involved in activities that promote local environmental and ecological health. You never know how your actions may spread!