Sunday, February 26, 2006

Our Trip to Trash Creek

When I was a kid in the summertime, the neighbor boys, my brothers and I would go on daily hikes to Quik Trip, where we bought tobacco-related sweets, such as Big League Chew and candy cigarettes. We'd wash them down with "suicides--" mixtures of sprite, coke, grape soda and any other pop they had on tap. Then we'd trudge home through the 108 degree swamp of sweat and humidity.

As soon as we stepped out of the air conditioned convenience store, the soda pop turned to hot syrup. Passing people's yards, dog doo cooking in the sun made us gag. Our mouths were dry as if we'd been drinking seawater--as opposed to hot syrup. I always forgot to wear shoes, so the heals of my feet burned off as I crossed the asphalt streets. Nature was brutal. But that didn't mean we threw trash at it. If we did, we'd see it the next day on the same walk and feel guilty.

But last week, my sons and I hiked through a beautiful stretch of land in the heart of the city, and people had, indeed, trashed the place.

Fox Hollow Trail starts at the Lakeside Nature Center in Swope Park. It cuts through a limestone bluff, where a thin layer of dirt covers rock in some places. At other spots, layers of rock jut out as if you're on a mountain.

Warmed by the sun and blocked from the wind, the bluff felt 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the park on the cool February day. My kids shed their hats and coats and we felt the blanket of summer rest on our shoulders.

As we descended the hill, we heard woodpeckers hammering their beaks on trees. We watched coal trains pass by on a nearby railroad track. The boys swung like Tarzan from grapevines. J.J. dozed with the sun on his cheeks in the backpack.

At the base of the hill, we saw Shiloh Hollow. With gnarled branches and felled trees covered with moss, it looked like fairytale woods. Richie sat in a hollowed branch and pretended to be in a canoe. Johnny pointed out a hole at the base of a tree and said little men must live there. It seemed as if we had happened upon a place nobody knew about but us.

At the creek, the boys stopped to skate rocks across the ice. That's where I saw it. Evidence that not only did few people know about this place, but they assumed it was the city dump. Plastic bags, pop cans, bathmats, big gulp cups and other trash congregated in a leafy dam. What a slap in the face to this beautiful forest! It reminded me of the book "The Giving Tree" when the boy cut down the tree that was so generous to him.

The girl inside the nature center said workers picked trash out of the creek everyday, but they couldn't keep up with it. On the busy street nearby, drivers threw their trash out their windows, and it blew down the hill and into the creek, she said. It is just one of many polluted creeks in Kansas City.

I tried to ignore the trash as we rested at the creek to drink our cans of pop. The boys had fun throwing rocks in the water. Johnny stepped out onto the ice, testing its strength. The water was shallow and it was a warm enough day, but I worried that if he fell in, the pollution would turn him into a mutant.

What would possess someone to throw a bathmat into a creek? I wondered.

As we walked back up the hill, Richie lay on his stomach and moved his hands through the warm dirt. Johnny laid down and rolled along the trail. I sat down and let the sun warm my face. Pretty soon, I realized I was drawing on the dirt with a stick. It was like nature was drawing us even closer to it. Calling us to its very essence: dirt. It was our final chance to soak up nature for the day. To let the hillside cure us of everything from hyperactivity to anxiety.

And I thought that if everybody did this once in a while--let nature take care of them, they would take better care of nature.

Myself included. I don't throw trash out the window, but we sure create a lot of garbage bags and seem to harvest junk in our yard. A quick glance out the window reveals bunches of toilet paper everywhere. That could be considered trash, though the kids call it "a project."

The trip made me want to do something for nature. I can't volunteer to pick up trash because I have a weak stomach. But I could encourage others to volunteer.

Just joking. The boys and I are going to come up with a plan to take care of nature just like it took care of us last week. We'll keep you updated on our efforts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

couldn't wait to get home and see what I missed! You always were anature girl!

8:09 PM  

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