Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Carry the Trash Down The Mountain

I live in an immensely beautiful place. The Pacific Northwest is simply breathtaking. The natural beauty that surrounds us here is like nowhere else on earth.

I'm blessed to live in such a gorgeous place, and to be healthy enough to get out and enjoy it.

Yesterday, I took a hike, late in the afternoon, up a little mountain near my home. I hike this trail often.

I try to be a conscientious hiker. I yield to uphill hikers when I am heading down the mountain.

One of my most closely held beliefs about hiking is that we should keep the trails pristine and clean. I always pick up litter that I find along the path.

Generally, hikers in the pacific northwest are careful and concerned about the state of the trails. There usually isn't much trash along the way.

Yesterday, I hiked late in the day. As I got close to the top, a man passed me on his way down. He said, "It's just going to be you and one other at the top." I said, "Yeah... it's the end of the day."

I was happy about the news. I like to be at the top of the mountain alone. It's peaceful and restorative.

When I neared the top, the 'one other' person was heading down. I knew I'd be alone at the top. I was even more pleased!

As I climbed the last rocky section to the summit, I saw it. There, at the top of the rock formation at the top of the hike, was a plastic grocery sack of trash! It was tied neatly, although it was clear that birds had tried to pull the bag apart.

I looked around. Sure enough... I was alone. Someone from earlier in the day had had a little picnic at the summit and LEFT THEIR TRASH THERE. I was stunned and a little irritated.

Then, I realized that because it is my practice to pick up the trash - I was going to have to carry it down the mountain!

I had an instant reaction of, "This isn't fair!!! Come on God... why do I have to carry someone else's mess off the mountain??"

I knew I was going to do it, but that didn't stop the ensuing conversation in my head.

My commitment is to clean up any trails that I hike on - to the best of my ability. Usually this involves picking up small pieces of trash, dropped by accident. This, however, was a deliberate act of carelessness and disregard for the environment, and for other hikers.

I wondered about the 'burden' of cleaning up other people's messes and why I seem to be expected to do it - repeatedly!

In some ways, it isn't fair. To me, however, keeping our natural areas clean for all of us to enjoy, is something I will always be committed to. Sometimes, that means I have to do things that aren't fair and clean up the messes that others leave.

I was a bit surprised that none of the other hikers who were on their way down as I was going up had brought down this bag of trash. Most hikers are pretty aware of that 'law of the trail.'

None of it really mattered. I knew I needed to bring the trash down. I knew I would bring the trash down. It didn't matter if it was fair... it was simply the right thing to do.

I wanted the next hikers to experience the top in its pristine and natural state. I wanted to 'handle it' so that no one else had to.

Sometimes in life, we are asked to do things that are 'the right thing' even though it really isn't our job. Sometimes it isn't fair. Often it is frustrating, because we only are called to do it because someone else won't take responsibility for themselves and their actions.

Do the right thing... anyway.