Mom and I are recycling buddies, distressed by the thought of recyclable paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal cans being dumped by the billions into landfills. Aluminum cans are 100% recyclable: each can recycled results in a new can. We fill two large green recycling containers throughout the week, and set them by the curb on Sunday night for Monday morning pickup. Even the toilet tissue tube is remembered. If the wind is blowing on Sunday, we wait for early Monday, because during one storm all the containers on the street blew over, sending recyclables sprawling across the neighborhood. E.P.A. reports that Americans discard more than 2,000,000 tons of aluminum cans each year—that’s 40 billion pounds, enough aluminum to rebuild the nation’s entire commercial airline fleet every three months. I am astounded that we dig the stuff up out of the earth, refine it, shape it into packaging—all at huge cost—and then use it and throw it away so more of it can be mined at huge cost. About 30,000,000 tons of plastic go to U.S. landfills each year. To me, it makes so much sense to reuse these materials. I choose to stow my cynicism about the American recycling industry, hoping it becomes more robust instead of diverting our recyclables to the landfill. Anyway, Mom and I have fun saving our clean recyclables for the weekly recycling truck. My sister Megan takes our glass bottles to a glass recycler. We like to believe we are doing something good for our planet.
On the way home from work, I stopped to buy a big bottle of Round-Up herbicide. Those pesky weeds keep popping up in the shrub beds and under the pine trees. Virginia creeper seems impossible to extirpate. As a teen, Dad taught me to mix concentrated pesticides with water in a three-gallon pressurized spray tank. With rubber gloves and a long sleeve shirt, I mixed the poison and sprayed the fruit trees against aphids and borers. Dad strictly instructed me never to get the pesticide—especially the concentrate—on my skin, and if I did to wash immediately with soap and water. He told me how these chemicals had killed people who touched them, or breathed their vapor. I took his word for it and followed his instructions carefully. A decade later I came across a first edition of Rachel Carson’s 1962 masterpiece Silent Spring, and carried it around for another decade before reading it. The book exposed the pesticide and herbicide industries for the dangerous nature of these chemicals to humans, animals (think DDT and Bald Eagle eggs), and ecosystems. Of course, all those chemicals have since been banned for home use because they, in fact, killed people. I am still careful with Round-Up, not spraying on a windy day, and washing with soap after. How glad I am that sensitive, smart, and courageous persons like Rachel took on the industrial complex at great personal sacrifice to share messages of truth larger than themselves. To introduce my book Rabbit Lane: Memory of a Country Road, and in admiration for how Rachel changed the world, I wrote this poem, expressing my sentiments 50 years after she penned hers.
not silent quite.
the growing hum