I saw chickadees flitting about in the trees. I saw downy and red-bellied woodpeckers fly from tree to tree, land on tree trunks and hitch their way up on the bark. I saw white-breasted nuthatches land on tree trunks and work their way both up and down. I saw tufted titmice and cardinals. I heard the ringing cry of a pileated woodpecker and wished I’d see it.
I didn’t see a pileated woodpecker but I did see squirrels and a chipmunk that had not gone to bed for the winter yet and three deer. I saw those birds and other animals in a natural setting, a setting without the artifacts of people.
Almost without the artifacts of people. There was the path, of course, and the posts with trail signs. There were a few benches along the path. The path, however, gave me easy access to this bit of the natural world. The signs were put up, I’m sure, to keep me and other visitors on the path. There was even a sign at the start of the path that said stay on the trail. The benches, which had backs, gave me places to sit comfortably, to enjoy the natural setting I was in, to watch the birds and other animals, to wait and hope that a pileated woodpecker or other uncommon bird would come near.
On the ground at one bench, however, there was a plastic sack, sandwich wrappers, wadded up napkins and pop cans. Two pop cans indicating that two people must have stopped and eaten lunch there. Two inconsiderate, careless people who had marred the natural setting for everyone who came after them, until someone picked up the litter they had dropped or tossed aside and left.
There had been litter along every road I’d driven to get to this few acres of wildness. From my experience there must be litter along every road in America except immediately after the litter has been picked up by highway employees or prison labor crews or Adopt A Highway volunteers. Recently I drove a section of highway where Adopt A Highway volunteers, I presume, had picked up. Two miles. Along the sides of the road were nine large trash bags, each one full, ready to be hauled away.
Those nine bags were the accumulated litter of just two or three months. Adopt A Highway volunteers are asked to patrol the roadsides they accept responsibility for at least once every three months, four times a year. I assist one such litter pick-up crew. Our designated area is two miles of a state highway and it’s in the country. Every time we go we find and collect enough sacks, papers, bottles, cans, ice cream cups and other litter to fill several trash bags.
There had been litter at the parking lot for the natural area where I went for a walk in a woods, a plastic sack, papers, ice cream cups, several drink cans. I had been annoyed, irritated. But I had thought that I was leaving litter behind when I walked along the path into the woods. I’ve been to that nature preserve before and I’ve found litter there before. I knew I might again. But I hoped I wouldn’t. For me, seeing litter in a natural area is a negative, as big a negative as seeing a pileated woodpecker is a positive.