The Ugliness At Winter’s End

Here it is yet again: the brown season. It’s perhaps the ugliest time of year. A few weeks ago, winter covered the world with blankets of white. A few weeks from now, spring will fill the world with fresh green leaves. For now, however, it’s the brown season.

Every place where the snow was plowed is filled with black piles where the top layers of white snow have melted to a black crust of salt, road grit, candy wrappers and dropped gloves. My daughter asked me, “Daddy, why is the world so full of garbage? Why do people throw things on the Earth?”

It took me a second to think of an answer.

“Some people drop things accidentally, or the wind blows things out of their hands. They don’t know they are dropping garbage on the Earth. Other people do it on purpose, but they don’t realize that it makes the world ugly or that other people have to clean up after them. Everyone learns things as they get older.”

It’s true. The way you look at garbage when you are 5 is different from how you look at garbage when you are 40. For me, spring is the great unveiling of ugliness. It’s the time of year that old receipts, fast food wrappers and other junk melt out of the snow piles. The wind blows them up in drifts across parking lots, streets and buildings. I know much of it is the accumulation of months of garbage finally being set free, but I still hate it.

Where the garbage isn’t drifting into buildings and cars, it is blowing into ditches and being carried into the lake. Every spring storm helps carry that garbage a little bit closer to the lake. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has a marvelous piece of land to hike on the outlet. Unfortunately, it’s also where a lot of this garbage ends up.

Late in the spring, as I hike amongst the Royal Ferns and Jack in the Pulpit under the budding trees along the outlet, I’ll see a forest full of soda cans, beer bottles, paper cups and burger wrappers. It is the spring ugliness and only you can help. Pick up a little bit of litter in a parking lot or along the street, even just a piece or two each time you are out. If we all pitch in, the lake and surrounding areas will get a little more beautiful and some of the spring ugliness can be avoided.

Sadly, I think that garbage is inevitable. Too many people leave too much around, on purpose and by accident. That doesn’t mean it has to end up in the places we love the most. Just like “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” “picking up a piece of garbage a day keeps the ugliness at bay.”

You may not have littered the garbage you see today, but everyone including me has littered in the past (knowingly or not). Pick up a little bit, and see if we can all pitch in and have a more beautiful place to live this spring.

Jeff Tome is a senior naturalist for Programs and Exhibits at the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and former board director. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.