Buried Alive

Not unusual, this Tuesday. I hop on my bike and head downhill toward the vast indigo ocean with Maui shimmering across the channel, verdant rolling fields a parenthesis between me and the sea. I fondly regard the local dairy’s towering wooden silo alongside giant red and white windmills, revolving in rhythm to the crispy gust of tradewinds. On my ten mile cruise along Akoni Pule Highway, I try not to focus too much on the roadside garbage, but thoughts creep in unbidden. When was it we began to ignore this blatant insult to the landscape? When did we collectively decide that walking, cycling and driving amidst rubbish was an acceptable state of being? And more broadly now, when did we collude in the wholesale polluting of the planet?

I remember growing up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s; recall milk deliveries, ice cream trucks, the separate weekly groupings of glass, paper and household rubbish. Into present awareness jump newspaper drives in grammar school, mammoth bundles tied with string, awaiting collection. Competition for our scout troop, summer camp, church fundraisers blends with somatic recall of smog alerts, times we had to refrain from playing at recess because our lungs burned with acrid air.

I reminisce on struggling with President Kennedy’s fitness programs, for we were not conditioned before running long distances around a track, not encouraged to stretch before attempting records at the long jump. My lungs and muscles ached for days, not to mention incurring virtual heat stroke from the solar-saturated asphalt surrounding islands of sand and swings. A playground promising blessed relief from forced intellectual and behavioral incarceration could likewise conjure mirages on the most blistering of days. I remember square dancing, pergola lunches, endless spinning around monkey bars, tetherball and five cent lunch milk in paper cartons. Recall going steady with boys in the fifth grade, playing spin the bottle in the bushes at Hamilton Park. And yet try though I might, I cannot summon the existence of roadside trash. All the way through high school, I covered mile after mile to and from those halls of learning. I walked to school, Brownies, band, drill team and water polo practice, I walked to the store, to friends’ houses, I walked to avoid going home. And I am certain I would have remembered curbside litter, as I was raised in the suburbs yet educated in the natural world of canyons and mountains, of ocean, high and low desert, of fresh and salt water lakes.

It was somewhere between thirty years in the Maine woods and spending quality time with a dear friend in Boston that I ventured into that city for focused periods of time. And one of the most striking features of forays into these urban environs was the sheer volume of rubbish blowing about the streets. Strolling through Somerville with plastic, styrofoam and paper collecting around my ankles lent stark contrast to long stretches of trees, grasses and pristine shorelines of the north country. And yet this began a time, for me, of mentally recording the emergence of a refuse culture, either ignorant, ignominious or both, in breed. We had somehow, somewhere and at some point become overwhelmed with our non-biodegradable consumerist compost. We had somehow, somewhere, and at some time chosen to ignore it spilling out from our homes and into our roads, highways, and landscapes. We had mysteriously made the collective decision not to care if it did.

Today I took note of the following items tossed from car windows, blown from beds of trucks and moved mauka to makai – from mountain to ocean – by the ever-present trade winds of Kohala. Grasping for perspective, I could not help but wonder what if anything moves through the minds of those who discard these objects; I who swoon with guilt anytime I’ve cast banana or orange peels far out the car window and into the scrub of landscape. Part of me knows they are biodegradable while another part wonders what would happen if a thousand people performed this act at the same time. To wit: beer bottles, large and small – some smashed, others whole, a disposable diaper, wadded paper towels, a large black sock, clear plastic roofing scraps, an entire plate lunch wrapped first in styrofoam then tied securely in a white plastic bag, red plastic drawstring from a garbage bag, cds, a cardboard box, a full orange adopted highway plastic rubbish bag that somehow had been moved off the highway collection spot and into the bushes, a Gatorade bottle left over from the last Ironman race, a rubber marker for a baseball diamond, plastic drinking bottles of all sizes and colors, plastic and galvanized garbage can lids (some shredded by the county mower), innumerable plastic bags blowing around, stuck to barbed wire fences and caught on tree branches, assorted aluminum cans, a child’s large inflatable toy, balloon bodies, woven plastic covers to county sandbags, a child’s rubber slipper, cigarette boxes, a man’s XXL “Year of the Tiger” tee shirt covered in dirt but otherwise perfectly wearable, an automobile wheel cover, plastic floor mat and old garage sale signs, both plastic and cardboard.

This rubbish collects along Akoni Pule Highway, gateway to our lovely community as it winds through some of Hawaii’s most striking landscapes and terminates in the incomparable Pololu Valley overlook. I have cycled this highway since moving here a dozen years ago, and for all the cleanup that periodically transpires, there is ever a recurring impulse to junk it up again with the telltale signs of a culture gone made with consumerism, the same culture that ignores a middle aged woman in the cashier’s line in front of me two days ago carting no fewer than ten well boxed and styrofoamed lights, requesting that each be securely stowed in its own brown and orange plastic Home Depot bag.

 

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46 thoughts on “Buried Alive

  1. It is a crime against nature. Education, awareness and community action, similar to the anti-littering campaign of the 60s, is needed. Remember ‘Keep America Beautiful’ and ‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute’?

    1. Exactly. Your suggestions are good and sound and do help when instituted. Unfortunately, there are often circumstances beyond the purview of education and even community action. Culture, poverty and simple unconsciousness play into things in ways we often cannot even conceive of. But we do what we can, where we can. Thanks, Eliza! 🌈

      1. I was in Mexico once at the beginning of the development south of Cancun and a local tour company wanted to clean up the trash along the highway to this remote jungle village. Again, as a culture, the indigenous had always tossed broken stuff out the door, which was fine when it was gourds, clay and other biodegrable stuff. Then came plastic which didn’t ‘go away.’ They began rewarding the children with sweets (not ideal, I know) for each bag of trash they presented when the tour bus stopped at the village, which they would haul out and dispose of. It really worked (until the kids ran out of trash and began filling bags with anything in order to get their treats)! One just has to find the motivation.

      2. People in survival mode use that tremendous creative human power to get what they need. What they want (in the case of the candy, perhaps) is so far removed, that they go to any lengths to satisfy that craving. And who can blame them? The answer would be to ensure that every global citizen is fed and sheltered, though that’s unlikely to happen. And so the dance continues … does it not? 🤔

      3. My husband grew up in a third world country. There were no trash trucks that came around to collect garbage. It is a first world luxury, unfortunately. So the idea of “littering” was completely foreign to them. I grew up in the US and littering was the equivalent to sin. I still go into a righteous anger fit when I see people dump their trash onto the street. The invention of plastic, cellophane only compounds the problem. It will catch up to us!

      4. Yes, for sure. Plastic has revolutionized many areas of our lives, has been beneficial – but the downside is pretty destructive. I, too have that ‘righteous anger’ reaction, but less so as I age, because I realize people have (always had?) so little motivation to change their behavior. I suspect when forced, that might well change in the future. Hope you are enjoying your long weekend! ❤

    1. So true. I keep thinking of Jerry Reed’s lyric, “Oh Lord, Mr. Ford, what have you done?” Since the advent of the automobile as a marker and culprit in history, we have progressively ‘modernized’ ourselves right off the planet, so to speak. Lots of benefits to balance the detriments, I know. Yet when we’re flying so fast that we can’t take time to look under our feet, it becomes … problematic, perhaps. Aloha, David.

  2. A great observation about the world around us, Bela. The trash does sound like an eyesore, and you do wonder how we all got to this stage in the world. It sounded like you had many walks when you were younger, the normal route every bit scenic. Maybe there aren’t enough trash bins around, maybe people just don’t care.

    It’s not hard to learn that every bit of trash can go somewhere and turned into something useful or go back to the Earth. But these days we are so consumed with consumerism instead that I wonder if we will ever wake up and see what’s happening around us.

    1. Aloha Mabel. Yes, trash just began collecting around our collective ankles, and I noticed, but most did not. Too many distractions, I guess.

      As for those living with povery and hunger, I’m sure they just do not possess the awareness of their actions. As Eliza said, indigenous people might once have thrown away trash, but it was made of pottery and such – eventually finding itself melding back into the landscape. Not so with plastic!

      I pondered your comment overnight and thought about if there were trash bins everywhere, and it might help. Then again, it might not. I remember riding my bike, seeing a woman changing a baby’s dirty disposable diaper ahead of me from the back of her van – and throwing it on the side of the road, which I soon rode past. Yuck! And yes, I wonder when or If these kinds of people will Ever awaken to the damage they are doing. Old habits of taking vehicles, for example, down to the shorefront (!!) to let them rot quicker has slowed here, but has not entirely stopped. This in a county where one can have such vehicles picked up and towed away for free. Sigh. 💞

      1. I pondered your thought that more rubbish bins might not change much, and you do have a valid point. Whether we want to respect the environment needs to come from within us, and it has to be a choice we want to make. Maybe one day ❤

      2. It does. I think, though it may be distressing, the only solution is to begin with the little ones. By the time they are grown, perhaps we’ll have a cleaner world. That’s the hope! 😘

    1. Yup. I was once behind an SUV headed to the Puna District (where all the volcanic activity is going on presently), as a big man’s arms pushed a number of plastic bags full of McDonald’s styrofoam containers out the passenger window onto the highway. Sometimes I really do lose hope for humanity. Aloha, Patrick.

    1. Haha, yes, brilliant wordplay. No doubt this is true. And yet if we accept the positives, we have the potential to deal with the negatives more responsibly. In theory. 😉 Thanks for your kind comments, as ever, H. 💓

      1. You know, when I was a kid — say the early 60s — the little town I lived in had two old boys constantly scouring the streets with a rubbish cart and broom; council employees. Everyone knew them, or recognised them, because they were always around, and it was only a very small town, a big village really. That all seemed to go in the 70s, I suppose when the mechanised sweepers came in, the big heaving trucks that creep along noisily. But they then all but disappeared, being seen only very infrequently. The squeeze is on, money and local councils, I mean, so the litter gets left unprioritised. Actually, though, where I am in Somerset there seems to be only a little of it, aside from the odd egregious fly-tipping — a fridge in a hedgerow, conifer clippings dumped in a ditch. I don’t know if we’re nowadays any worse than we were in our littering, but suspect kids are as bad as they (we) ever were. The BBC program, Blue Earth, appears to have raised consciousness about plastic waste. I’m minded to add another dreadful pun: perhaps we’re past the tipping point, though? H ❤

      2. Yes, I had to look up ‘fly tipping’ as hadn’t heard that before. It’s been popular here at well – people taking metal (cars, refrigerators – plastic anymore, but still) down near the ocean (!!!!) to let it ‘rot quicker’ – !!! – which is a joke. If you’re going to take it that far, then for godssake take it to the transfer station! A lot easier on paved roads and it’s free and no hassle! Less of it now, but still. The sugar companies did Not set a good precedent AT ALL. Just walked away, leaving processing facilities and vehicles and equipment to rot near the oceanside. Broken glass, dishes, other rubbish. And yes, intermittent cleanup efforts, which has made it better since we’ve lived here. Some is impossible to reach, as these were old dumping areas (over cliffs, e.g.).

        Meanwhile back on the mainland US … it’s far worse. Far, far worse. One thing I noticed when visiting Ireland last year and other parts of Europe decades ago is the sheer scale of things in the US vs over the pond. Not sure if you’ve visited, but you’d likely be immediately overwhelmed. I know I am everytime I travel. It’s just massive. On another note, the underground (loved that idea!) supermarkets in Sydney AUS paled in comparison to the gaudy above-ground Walmarts in the US, covering acres and acres just for parking, nevermind the neon-lit aisles inside these soulless structures.

        We watch the BBC almost exclusively, but not as ‘television;’ rather the series or documentaries. Will check out Blue Earth. So on we go. With microplastics in every form of sea life known, I think we’re on a whole new trajectory in terms of future sustainability. Yet humans are perpetually creative. For me it always comes down to the decision of how to use that force; for the greater good or ongoingly for greed. We shall see! Aloha, my friend. Thanks for chiming in. ❤️

      3. Yes, I’ve been to the States twenty odd times. I used to regularly holiday in Napa Valley in January. Oh, and my mistake on the Beeb program; it’s called Blue Planet. Here’s a clip:

        H ❤

  3. I’ve noticed that areas where recycling is included in waste management and garbage pick ups that the litter problem had improved. But alas, there are those who are too lazy to even participate. (In Seattle, it’s enforced. But it’s strange that it would have to be.)
    A depressing thought that we might one day be buried in non-biodegradables….

    1. Yes, you see this firsthand, Betty. It’s easy enough here in this small community to load up your garbage and take it to the transfer station, not further than 5 miles away through, um, No Traffic. Easy enough. It’s the consumer consciousness, I think. When introduced as quickly as it has been to a culture steeped in simplicity, it is compounded. I really think Eliza has a point, saying yes, in ancient times, people cast their rubbish by the wayside, but that rubbish included clay vessels, for example, which degraded back to the earth eventually. The bridge in consciousness, at least in my mind, is what is sagging.

      As to your last comment? Fact is, we already are. But even then, there appears to be hope. Certain scientists are working with a form of mycellium that apparently ingests? consumes? plastic, rendering it biodegradable. Remains to be seen, but there have got to be *some* answers to this particular aspect of our man-made dilemma. Thanks, Betty – and Aloha. 💞

      1. I’ve been hearing about the work scientists are doing. Hopefully they’ll be successful, the sooner the better. They now have plastic bags that are supposedly biodegradable, but they aren’t in wide usage at this point. And it’s only the beginning….

      2. Yes, gosh, beginning! And we knew something had to be done back in the late ‘sixties, early ‘seventies,’ for me, anyway. And on we go … 😘

      3. It seems human nature is to put things off (environmental responsibilities) until we’re in crisis. Then when the crisis is upon us we go into denial. Then when our lives are in immediate danger we blame it on somebody else. (By “we” I mean the majority of our species.) ….sigh….
        💚🌻

      4. Agreed, Betty – we are definitely representative of our generation, at least those of us who advocated for the earth, equality for all sentient beings and justice for all. We certainly did think ‘the times, they [were] a-changin’ – but I suspect history just keeps on repeating itself with more and more dire consequences for the environment. I wish it were otherwise.

        I met a sweet local Japanese Hawaiian man in the Costco parking lot the other day, and the conversation began turning to such matters when he began singing (in a hauntingly lovely voice), “Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas … fish full of mercury …. oohhh … mercy, mercy me.” Gave me goose bumps and again now as I write this. Aloha ❤

  4. A topic Bela that is so close to my own heart.. It often pains me also to see the amount of rubbish thrown from vehicles along the hedgerows to, let along what people throw down that blows about our towns, despite notices of fines etc..
    It never ceases to amaze me what type of people can dispose of rubbish in this way.. I have lost count of the times going for a country walk to see an empty water or pop bottle thrown under a hedge.. I think if they managed to carry it full to this point, why can they not carry it empty to place in a bin..
    But we have become a throwaway society, and many see themselves as not responsible for their actions, thinking to themselves another gets paid to clear up the rubbish.. Apple cores and Banana skins all compost back into our Earth Mother, so do not feel bad about that, but I know what you mean,
    It is the other things like plastic which finds its way into rivers and oceans..
    I could rant all day along with you Bela.. For it has to stop.. And don’t get me started on fly-tipping, as we have a space near us that is often filled with someone tipping rubbish in huge quantities right next to a Sign that says NO FLYTIPPING. At Christmas four plastic bin bags with boxes, Christmas wrapping paper etc were found. I hope they traced the culprits..

    Any way good to be back here Bela, and I was thinking about you and Hawaii with all that has been happing with the volcanic eruptions on the Islands..
    Now to see what else I have missed while away.. ❤ xx

    1. “It never ceases to amaze me what type of people can dispose of rubbish in this way.” This is my point exactly. What have we collectively evolved into? What aspects of The One are in need of self realization? Because if we only knew the power each of us holds, is responsible for, would we act so carelessly?

      Everywhere we walk here on this Paradise of an island, no matter how remote, we take backpacks and bags and bag up rubbish. In the span of a few miles, we’ve gathered quite a bit, in what on first take seems a pretty pristine landscape. Next time we pass the same way, there is fresh detritus to bag up. It’s depressing; not only that, but the plastic and other rubbish the tides continually wash ashore. And this, 2600 miles from any large land mass! We have lately been seeing a lot more rubbish from the Fukushima disaster.

      So on it goes, and almost impossible to imagine awakening those most in need of it. As I said to Mabel, I think it must begin with the kids, because the adults seem already locked into their patterns, in so many ways.

      Glad you’ve had a break, dear Sue – I’ve been too busy, and will have to get to your site to see what’s been up with you and yours. No worries here about the volcano – it’s amazing to witness a new shield volcano being birthed, but it’s 3-1/2 hour drive from where we live and we are content to see videos and such that folks are posting on social media. The air near the eruptions is toxic, so no thrills are to be had in choking on that.

      Big hugs! And welcome back – “e komo mai!” Aloha. 🌈🌋🌺❤️

      1. I agree we have to start educating children. I think many now especaespe here are doing earth projects. My granddaughter did one on rain forests. And my neighbours boy. Came to ask for some things out my garden. As he was doing a project on beautiful earth. Both are aged seven. 😃So let’s live in hope xx

      2. Yes. Good to hear. coincidentally in today’s local paper, several kids from elementary school wrote letters to the editor asking people to take care of the planet in one form or another. Interesting synchronicity. 😍

  5. Hi Bela,

    Loved the post as it talks about something I feel deeply about.

    For a quarter of a century, I lived and worked in the sparsely populated land of Oman. The lack of population pressure coupled with a vigilant administration yielded a picture post card and clean environment. For me and my wife this became a given, something one took for granted. We scarcely realised how privileged and blessed we were.

    The realisation dawned on us and how(!) when we returned back to our own country India. The sheer pressure of population, the lack of funds and resources and above all, a significant part of population struggling to make both ends meet is an unholy mix. A mix further aggravated by the modern urban lifestyle which is all about consumerism, competition and expectations. I suppose you get the picture of the kind of environment one needs to struggle to come to terms with……….

    Two years down the line, I continue to struggle as something inside me is unwilling to accept what for most is ‘how things have always been’.

    How could I shift away from the space of blame to one off ‘being cause in the matter’? How could we contribute to upgrading our living spaces?

    Regards

    Shakti

    1. Aloha, dear Shakti! Thanks for contributing to this conversation. I did not know you had returned to India. It must be shocking to witness after all those years, similar to the time frame since Chris and I returned to the Hawaiian Islands. We had the same startling encounter with roadside rubbish. Suddenly there were box stores and fast food and oh, so many automobiles and trucks and … piles and piles of trash. We were on Moloka’i before – a tiny island, really. This time the Big Island, and boy, is it Big! Private jets in their own jetport and billion dollar lifestyles in fancy resort communities that seem alien to the whole island lifestyle. Wow. It was mind-altering. So much so, that I couldn’t even set foot into one of these communities for the first seven years we lived here.

      So you returned to one of the oldest and we to one of the newest lands – witness the erupting volcanoes on the southernmost tip of the island as we speak. New land is forming every moment. Still, the challenges seem similar as to how to deal with our waste. Not only castoff packaging and belongings, but disenfranchised humans, as well. Hawaii Island has an ongoing issue with what to do with the homeless, which isn’t going anywhere with the now-displaced people of the Puna district (where the volcano has consumed homes and properties).

      I would love to be the source of workable solutions on a grand scale, but it’s not my field of expertise, unfortunately. For me it’s simply overwhelming. Instead, I distribute information as best I can, and continue collecting and bagging and properly disposing of roadside detritus whenever possible. Education is key, I believe, beginning with the very young. And the media could be a huge source of help in this regard, should it choose. Social media. Because just about every kid here from 2 years of age and up holds a phone in their small hands and even watches videos in back seats of vehicles on tablets mounted to the rear of the front seats. Until we can get them to look up (and look down), I really do fear for the future of humanity. Hope is in balance, and realizing we are all part of this green and evolving Earth. Aloha. ❤️

  6. I didn’t know what fly-tipping was until I saw a video on You Tube. This man who was recording the video caught a couple dump unused brick materials on a site with no license to accept waste. This post is beautifully written, Bela, and must be widely read – the need of the hour. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

    1. Yes, humans can really derail those inventive impulses. So creative to figure out how to do the wrong thing. One would think they would channel that differently, but too often that is not the case.

      Hope you and your sweet family are enjoying the long weekend, Mahesh! Love to you all. ❤

  7. I’m with you, Bela! I have always found it so offensive and have been known to chase a car to let them know (not so much these days as there are not many that don’t have a gun in the glove.) Take it a step further and I can’t tell you how many times, during a drought where everything is brown and crunchy, I have seen a cigarette tossed from a window…ugh!!!

  8. Hello Bela,
    So glad to join your followers.

    There seems to be a worldwide resurgence in addressing waste problems and yet those problems are worse than ever. The youth are brought up into a world of instantaneous material gain. There is no ‘mend’ or ‘make-do’ policy to curb waste. It is also easier than ever, to purchase new for cheaper cost than repair. Add to this, the ‘disposable’ everything and the idea that someone else somewhere takes care of the waste, and you have a recipe for global disaster.

    Your picture, painted with words, of the countryside roads of your Island, is the same picture everywhere.

    We need to change mass consciousness to reflect the need to protect our environment. This doesn’t happen with fines for littering (although they help) or guilt for not recycling (if the recycle bins are not easily accessed, we take the easier option to trash instead). This doesn’t happen at the manufacturing level, who only provide the cheap, protective, packaging that we want.

    To reduce this waste problem, we have to ‘care.’ We have to be neighbourly, we have to love each other and our animal friends. We have to live symbiotically. We need mass consciousness of thought to move humanity into a kinder space.

    Right now, there is no living creature quite as selfish as a human. It needs to change. We need to change profoundly.

    1. Absolutely agree with your sentiments, Colette. And glad to be connected. Looking forward to carving out some time to read your own offerings, thanks for your appreciation of mine.

      Interdependence is key in this new Aquarian Age. Humans cannot survive much longer without it. Thanks for your caring. Aloha.🙏🏽

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