Archives for : June2014

Waverly Walker Field Notes: Smoking Debris

Douglas William Garcia Mowbray – Waverly Improvement Association, Board of Directors

May 13, 2014. 6 in the p.m. Tonight’s walkers will meet at Chestnut Hill Park, 600 block of Chestnut Hill Avenue in northern Waverly. We walk north on Old York Road; I am pushing a stroller filled with Emerson, while Nayeli carries water for the flowers in the park’s planters. On Old York Road, along the curb, debris that dried up after a recent storm surge. First sign of cigarettes: dried butts that never quite made their way to the storm drain and  on to the bay. Next rain storm, they’ll get their second chance.

At the park, underneath the picnic bench, an empty cigarette box. Butts scattered about the benches, smashed into the worn ground where grass never grows, where grass never gets a chance to grow. Also, evidence of marijuana use—cigarillo wrappers and little clear zip-lock baggies. Typical debris when the weather is nice. More than one kind of ‘lighting up’ here, probably after dark when eyes from houses can’t see who’s there, what they are up to.

With CEASE coming to Waverly and this new attention on helping people kick a damaging habit, I notice the cigarette leftovers more.  When usually my eyes spy and lock on the scourge of the black plastic convenience bags, now I am transformed into a CSI—cigarette scene investigator.

Along the curbs, trails of butts washed out from the streets and sidewalks, grass and alleys. A city landscape turned so haphazardly into an ashtray. Each discarded cigarette butt like a Moses given over to the waters—to be adopted by the Chesapeake Bay; a self-inflicted plague, punishment of man on man, on all mankind, on all earthkind. I’ve read about a new trash device being deployed in the harbor—what an unnecessary expense if people upstream disposed of their waste properly or perhaps didn’t generate the waste at all.

Passing a man and his son, or grandson, maybe 8 years old, I nearly cough. The man is smoking.  How often does this child cough? What impression is made? Across the street, a worker going from his van to the house he is working on, finishes a smoke and flicks it into the bushes. If this was a really dry season, imagine the damage that mini-torch could do. (When the PSA with Smokey the Bear started showing up in the City I wondered why in the world they would try to teach people in an urban environment not to start fires in the forest. After discarding my blinders, I reread the message and it said ‘Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,’ which is a different message from my childhood—“Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Perhaps this PSA still needs an upgrade. I can’t imagine a bear is the best spokesperson in the City to teach people not to flick lit butts.)

My son, 20 months old, has had enough of the stroller and wants to walk. His pace is not brisk like ours. His world view is closer to the ground; unless a truck drives by or a helicopter flies overhead, he is transfixed by everything on the ground: rocks, leaves, twigs, ants, lots of ants, candy wrappers, broken glass—and cigarette butts. He knows ‘Yuck!’ by now and I am quick on the draw when he reaches for a butt—Yuck, Emerson, yuck! That’s trash Emerson, basura (Spanish for ‘trash). He stops to consider this.

At home, he knows basura goes into the trash can. Out here, there are no trash cans. We have no trash bag with us (sometimes on walks we do bring bags). We could spend hours on a small section of a block, or alley, disposing of basura. He knows, or is learning, to dispose of his own waste properly. What is he to make of all this waste around him? His instinct is to pick up trash and put it in its place. What’s the lesson here? Sometimes we ignore trash, sometimes we don’t? We do schedule clean-ups throughout the year and make a conscious effort to remove such waste, but what will his evolving mind make of the concept that on some days we pick up the yuck, we gather the butts, we snatch up the black plastic bags, while on most days we don’t bother to bend down, we go about our day, our evening, and we simply leave the trash where it is? Will Emerson think we are hypocrites for not being consistent in picking up trash? When will he understand that sometimes you just have to sigh with disappointment and move on down the sidewalk? When he can fully and clearly speak and reflect on his world and his own thoughts and impressions, will he ask me these questions, or will he interrogate strangers about their bad habits?

Jennifer Wallace writes in her latest collection of poems, It Can Be Solved by Walking, “It is impossible to attend to the whole world. And that is an embarrassment and an anxiety.” (from the poem Somewhere someone still digs…)

Waverly Walkers meets twice a month, May through October, the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, starting at 6 p.m., concluding around 7 p.m. Each walk starts at a designated spot and walkers set out to explore the neighborhood with the only path, the only destination, being a wider understanding and connection to the people of Waverly, to this place we call home. A full schedule of walks can be found at the Waverly Walkers blog.