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The Proper Thing

Garth Brown |

In case you have a hard time making out the script on the bottle in the lead photograph it says, "DISPOSE OF PROPERLY." Until a few days ago I had a group of pigs on the edge of my little woods. The lot I laid out for them included some pasture and some area under trees for shade. At the edge of the field previous owners had dumped many, many stones from years of picking rocks out of fields when tilled for planting. Mixed into the rockpile were a bunch sheets of black plastic, scrap metal, and a few other odds and ends, one of which was this bottle. I've known about the plastic and metal for years, but never felt inclined to haul it to the garbage dump because so much vegetation had engulfed it I knew I would spend hours and hours to digging it all out. Well... pigs like to dig when there are bugs, grubs, and raspberry roots on offer, and they did a bang up job of excavating the plastic and metal, which made it just a few minutes work to collect all the trash.

When I picked up the green bottle and saw the admonition from Mountain Dew or whoever manufactured it long ago I let out a little involuntary guffaw. Clearly my perception of "proper disposal" differs greatly from prior owners of my farm. Who's to say dropping a soda bottle in a hedge row is, "not proper"? Here I was pulling plastic out of a pile to put in a different pile and then ultimately pay to put it in a landfill somewhere far away, using my time, energy, and let's face it, money to make it happen. My next thought was of George Hayduke, one of the central characters of Edward Abbey's eponymous novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. In the book Hayduke litters his way across the southwest, hurling beer cans out out the window of his vehicle, while ranting about the roads that bisect and devour the wilderness. While I'm no fan of litter, Abbey's point was not lost on me. Metal and glass are inert materials and while they offend many peoples' aesthetic sensibilities they don't pose much threat to mother nature or her natural processes. Roads on the other hand bring enormous change to the landscape and ecosystems they run across - disrupted plant communities, soil erosion, salt application (in winter), vehicular traffic, and exponentially more humans are but some of the concomitant effects of road building and road repair.

Which brings me to another summer happening here at Cairncrest Farm - Talbot Road. This is the road that bisects farm. The town is repaving it at large expense... and I can't help but wonder whether it is worth the cost. Talbot Road is not the most direct route anywhere except home for the 10 or so households who live on it. Daily traffic numbers on our road run in the single or low double digits. Blacktop does not last a terribly long time in the climate of central New York. I wonder why the town doesn't just make it a dirt road? Sure it would need to be graded yearly, but the long term cost would be substantially less than asphalt. I wonder how many years of grading could have been financed with the price of running this machine up and down my hill.

In the grand scheme of things the road that runs across my farm affects the ecosystem processes of this little piece of earth much more than the junk I've found piled here and there. The road is useful to me and doesn't offend my tastes though, so I rarely give it any thought.

- Edmund

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