It’s a paradox, but isolated mountain life is making us get uncomfortably close to our new community’s trash supply. Here at Big Laurel, we get it from all angles; the drive along Marrowbone Branch road up to our ridgeline home provides a regional tour of rusted auto bodies and old childrens’ toys strewn along the banks of Marrowbone Creek. Walking with Wendell on the ATV trails around our property reveal hidden dumps in the trees where tossed aside garbage bags have burst their contents, strewing them into the foliage. Worn out tires one day; the next a pile of clothing, earthen stains beginning to take over. Most often it’s beer can remnants from the past weekend’s teenage revelries.
The garbage situation at our Knob home is similar. The homestead has seen a plethora of residents in its time, and each inhabitant comes with their own possessions. When they eventually moved on, what wasn’t valuable enough to keep was left behind. Consequently, we have been sorting through the remnants of every previous inhabitant. Weighed down with our own truck load of wedding gifts, we have been overwhelmed with the daunting task of sorting through the clutter and getting rid of everything we deem unnecessary. But our home is just one of many buildings on the property, others are being treated as defacto storage sheds; often stuffed with water-damaged junk. We’ve spent weeks going through these buildings and trying our best to methodically sort through it all. But sorting it is the easy part. What’s difficult is knowing what to do with it. Much of the clutter is truly worthless and we can toss it into our garbage bags with only a twinge of guilt. Then it can be stored in our woodshed or to the side of the house until we can take it to the coal company’s community dumpster a half hour down the road. I can only imagine that our neighbors do the same, at least those that don’t burn everything or chuck their trash into the creek.
Getting our goods anywhere but a landfill is the trickiest part. Though we sort out all our recyclables, we haven’t found anywhere within an hour of us that will take them. One ambitious weekend we cleaned and sorted two hundred pounds of scrap metal, filled the back of the nuns truck with it, and drove three hours round trip to get it recycled. For all that trouble we made $6. More often we simply send every departing guest with a goodie bag of our recyclables for them to dispose of in their own cities.
Facing a multi-year collection of trash can be staggering. We’ve found unopened packages of tools that have rusted in their plastic pouches. Piles of cheap gardening supplies with cracks or sun damage that renders it all completely useless. Cables running through my garden soil to connect into our home for a now extinct model of TV. One entire shed was full of recyclable plastic containers from the summer camps. And Big Laurel is a place where people live simply and a lot more minimally than the rest of America.
No, Big Laurel doesn’t have a trash problem. I’ll bet it creates less waste than most organizations its size. What it has is a trash removal problem. And living up here is making me think a lot more critically about the way the rest of America deals with trash. When someone else collects your garbage regularly from a tidy outdoor bin, you begin to forget just how much it all adds up.
Ian and I aren’t any better than the Knob inhabitants before us. We forget our reusable bags just about every shopping trip and consequently could choke a lot of wildlife with all the disposable bags piling up on our pantry counter. Our collection of beer bottles has gotten too heavy for me to lift (don’t judge, we didn’t drink it all ourselves!). And when I see it taking up valuable room in our home, I can begin to understand the appeal of chucking it all into the woods.
A lot of people move back to the land to gain more control over their lives. They want to fully understand their personal ecological impact and minimize it where they can. Seeing how many dumpsters Ian and I have probably filled in the three months we have lived here, I don’t think we are there yet. But I know that we are getting a more accurate view of the impacts of our consuming lifestyle. And seeing clearly is the first step towards making some changes.
A great piece about trash in Honduras was written by my college friend Kate Parsons. I highly recommend checking it out.