A small portion of the litter I collected today
For years I’ve trained my eyes to be the eyes of a naturalist—discerning animal sign, the shapes of leaves, stripes of quartz in granite. Today I turned my attention away, though, to concentrate on something else entirely: trash. The litter on the summit of Mount Wachusett has haunted me for years and for years I dreamed of picking it all up. When I woke this morning, the intention had crystallized into action. And so up I went with two white trash bags flapping in the wind like the flags of surrender. Two bags, one for recyclables and one for the landfill. Into the bags went plastic water bottles, cans of Bud Light, granola bar wrappers, empty packs of cigarettes, discarded handwarmers, and dog waste. Quickly they grew heavy.
For twenty-five years I’ve lived in the somber blue shadow of Mount Wachusett. That’s all my years. My father carried me up the mountain when I was seven days old and it was then that I started learning birdsongs, wildflowers, wind. High Meadow is the only place I have ever encountered God. I’ve never looked at a trail map because I’ve never had to. But this land isn’t sacred just to me. This land is Nipmuc. This is where King Phillip’s War was fought. This is Massachusetts’ last old growth forest east of the Connecticut River. This land is sacred to every hiker who makes the pilgrimage out of the city to breathe fresh air.
As with so many things, this was not a matter of who is the wrongdoer. It does not matter who dropped what, or whether it was by accident. What matters is that I bore witness and I had the ability to set things right. Most of us do. It’s impossible to rely on the underfunded Department of Conservation & Recreation or wait for a prison crew to materialize with their trash pickers. I knew I was the only who would do it, so I did.
Please get in touch to help with future projects and visit Leave No Trace‘s website to for more on wilderness ethics. Small actions have great consequences. Let’s band together and do more to help the Earth.