A River of Thought

For the majority of my childhood, I grew up beside a river. It was part of my backyard, really. As essential as the ground beside it. I remember the day I discovered it had been used as a dumping ground of sorts.  I started finding things.

Old medicine bottles, broken glass, shards of faded pottery.

I remember asking my mother about it, she said, yes, people used to put their garbage in the river. I remember being stunned. Of course, years ago there was no garbage pick up. People burned their garbage or buried it on their land. Or in their rivers.
But what struck me is that these people were my grandparents. I knew these people.

I was thinking about this today, about how it connects in a way that I hadn’t realized before to my interest in understanding the landfill. And my longstanding love of the rivers, lakes and oceans.  If you want to read the introduction about my ongoing landfill project you can find it here.

Another thing that struck me. The river is still a dumping ground. It is cast with thoughtlessness. You won’t see it here, but I can tell you about it. I can tell you about the hundreds of plastic bottles that wash up every spring, the half-shredded plastic bags, the old tin cans and beer bottles. The Styrofoam. I can tell you about the bags of garbage that I’ve picked up when walking the shore.

A winter river, breaking open

Back to the landfill.  You don’t see garbage there. It is taken care of. It is a full landfill.

How could the landfill be cleaner than the river?

Grasses along a landfill pond

I recently spent another morning there. You might be surprised to know that there is a certified wildlife habitat within the boundaries. There are hundreds of birds and many deer.

You also might be surprised to know that because this landfill is closed and another one has not yet opened, we send 70 percent of our city garbage (industrial and business) out of the area.

In fact, we ship some of our garbage to Michigan.

Canada’s capital city sends garbage to the USA.

Reflections on the Landfill Pond

But I’m still wondering about the river. I’m wondering why it’s still a dumping ground? As a caretaker of the earth, I’ll be working this weekend.

All images © Karen McRae

91 thoughts on “A River of Thought

  1. Your art is beautiful, Karen. I appreciate every post, even if this is my first comment.

    I can’t quite get my head around garbage dumping. When we started digging to plant potatoes in our backyard, we realized the builder had buried a bunch of construction trash in our backyard. (Which was sort of reflective of the previous owners who buried their garbage in the snow when they were moving out.) Why? I don’t get it…

  2. Heartbreaking. But as with your most beautiful images… One can only hope that life will continue and thrive despite us. Kudos to you for taking such a proactive role in a beautiful area. I know of an artist who collects glass in a similar area — trash in a forest — and creates beautiful art, after witnessing the deer being injured by it.

      1. better out than in Karen 😉 … I have reviewed some of my 1500 Saturdays posts recently and blimey they can be depressing… wasn’t my intention when I started!

  3. More beautiful photos again Karen. It’s a sobering thought you bring up about the state of your local river. Such a shame. It’s also rather encouraging to hear about the landfill site – we humans can try and do some things right! I

  4. A caretaker of the earth, and vivid documenting too, Karen. It is a little scary to think that people just throw things carelessly. I wonder how they treat their homes? Wonderfully thoughtful post Karen.

  5. But heartening that Nature is resilient enough for the moment to claim back her territory, to install new life. I live on the outskirts of a small town in the Finistère in France, having lived in the heart of the country all the rest of my life. Thanks to the non smoking laws, people throw away their cigarettes before boarding the bus. The wind sweeps thousands of them (plus a few packets) into my parking space and terrace every week. Tiny things, but so many of them, and which do not break down any more than a plastic bag. I can’t understand it either, but it shows a total contempt for the Earth.

    Your pictures are breathtaking.

  6. trash is a huge problem where i live (in italy) as well. maybe you could photograph some of it before picking it up? it might be another way/means of communicating your pure, logical, sensible message

    thanks for doing what you do,
    alessandro

  7. I live in beautiful NH but hauled rubbish to landfills for 15 years. It was always sad for me to see what could have been re-purposed but was just simply dumped upon the land.
    I have spent my whole life living in a way so ooposite of my JOB. I always recycle, never litter but the people in this country are so full of waste. I hauled 100 yards of compacted trash 4 times a day 6 days a week and that was just me! I worked with 15 men all with their own rigs who did the same, for just ONE COMPANY.

    Companies need to really pay attention as how they package their things.

    I have a organic garden and use old glass to make beautiful things to wear and dress up your home. I also work in metals and find scrap to work with but there are only so many of us around the world who do this and the garbage continues to mount up. We have a lot of trash to energy plants here in the northeast part of US but I remember a time when drivers would head out in the wee hours to dump load after load of rubbish into farmers land in PA, sickening. I have seen a major ice cream company take pallet after pallet of good ice cream to be incinerated because the date did not allow stores to keep on shelves. It could have been donated.

    This kind of waste is every where. I love my world and just wish others cared about it as much.

    Love your Blog and photos attached. As you can tell this struck a nerve with me. I lived in that world before they were capped in this area for the most part.

    1. Hi, thank you for sharing those thoughts and experiences. It must have been an eye opening experience working in that field.
      It sounds like you are a wonderful caretaker of the earth!
      Thank you, I’m happy to connect with you.

      1. It was and I always have eyes wide open these days.
        I am so happy I was directed to check out your blog, it is beautiful and hits close to home.

  8. Anyone/everyone can feel a visceral connection between your images, the river and the Earth. You are already working as caretaker of the Earth through your art;engaging people and connecting them to the majesty of nature. If every person who views your marvelous photos, takes one moment to think and to change one destructive behavior, imagine the impact. Thank you.

  9. I love the images and as for your thoughts maybe you will shame a few people.

    Unfortunately a sad reflection of some in today’s society: never thinking about the consequences of their actions, it is always someone else’s problem.
    I am beginning to see it here in Oman, which was always such a clean place compared to the likes of the Emirates and do not mention the streets of UK!

    1. Hi David,
      Thank you. It is strange how people are so thoughtless, I don’t really understand it but I suppose we can only do our best and hope some of it rubs off a little!

  10. Beautiful inspiring thoughts, Karen. 🙂 I’m too an absolute lover of nature – and most part of my life, I have lived near a river. It still breaks my heart to see that people throw rubbish in the rivers. Hmmm.

    Great photos, Karen. 🙂 I liked that you chose B&W theme, still natural but it goes well with the message you have brought up. Loved this post. 🙂

  11. More or less, all the life-form has to dump the waste. We animals are living on the
    discarded Oxygen dumped by the plant in the primeval earth. So, it is a Karma of
    all the living existences though, only we human is producing unrecyclable toxic
    waste in enormous amount.
    To telling this fact in suppressed B/W photos, your quiet message is louder than
    an activist’s shout. —— because, it makes the people think deeper.
    You’ve done the work beautifully.
    ___/\___

  12. And how beautifully your words accompany the (one again) outstanding photography. You raise such valid concerns, and the shot’s amplify them to brilliant effect, thereby causing the viewer to pause, in reflection. Superb, Karen.

  13. Brilliant post; beautifully written and stunning images. What I think I appreciate most is your personal and reflective approach to these sometimes overwhelming realities. Thank you.

  14. I live a few miles far from Scarborough Beach. Whenever I feel upset or depressed, I used to go there and sit all alone there for hours. The waves of the sea talk to me and motivate me that the world not ends here, get up with a new hope and go ahead, something special is waiting for you.

  15. A simple, powerful and moving message. Each one needs to do his lettle bit, rather than complaining about what the world is coming to. The B&W pix seem to add their bit to the message.

  16. Incredible images, and as someone who lives on a beautiful wild river up here in Alaska, the issue of dumping is one I can appreciate. Thank you for writing about this. I only wish we could do away with so much of this trash at the source, since sadly, once some things are made, they trash the landscape pretty much no matter where we put them.

    1. Hi Glenn, It’s true that we create so much unnecessary waste.
      It is very interesting, the life you have chosen to live. I look forward to exploring your blog more. I imagine you to live in a gorgeous area.
      Thank you for commenting, it’s an important conversation.

  17. Fantastic post..I am continually amazed and saddened by the rubbish left in our landscapes, it seems so arrogant to throw ourselves around in this way..I am still utterly amazed that we pump overflows of raw sewage into our rivers and seas here..standing on a beautiful beach on holiday the other weekend I was astounded to read on the board a warning to not let children put the river water to their faces as it contained harmful levels of bacteria…there has to be a better way, to live in harmony with our world..

      1. Hi Cath,
        You know, when it rains heavily here, raw sewage runs into the rivers, too!
        You would think there must be a way to resolve those kind of infrastructure problems. There must be ways!
        Thank you. K

  18. I know the word breathtaking can be overused…but these simply are just that…beautiful images and the black and white works brilliantly and adds so much to the images

  19. Dear Karen
    After leaving my wordpress-Blog your photo of the Sea Jellie attracted my attention. Then I saw the categorie “Landfill”. My new Blog article “Strassen, Häuser, Infrastrukturen bis auf den Berg” refers to two landfills being swept away by two different rivers in a severe storm 2005 in Switzerland: one at Klosters Graubünden, where prince Charles often spends his winter hollidays; an otherone not far away in my neighbourhood.
    When I was a child I used to play at a small river. It ended as a playground where the river disappeared in a tube under a railway dam and where the forest ends too. Being a ravine, it could not be used for agricultural production, therefore it was a landfill. All the garbage of the nearby village was dumped there, even the left overs of a factory which produced chemicals. We saw the rats, the smoke, it smelled badly. Today it is taxed “one of the most problematic landfills” in Switzerland.
    Expensive solid waste incineration is now the usual treatment while some people still burn there garbage in the oven, especially in the mountains where small houses with woodstove are common, air and water are clean and the problems not so obvious. The big problem is the world consumption increases, increases, increases. The problem is not solved for future generations … and of course for large parts of the world.

    I will follow your blog.
    Kind regards from Switzerland
    Heidi

    1. Hi Heidi,
      Thanks so much for your comments. It is a problem everywhere, and I agree; we are terrible over-consumers!
      (Sorry about the late reply, I’ve been away.)
      I will visit your blog.
      With thanks, Karen

  20. I’ve been enjoying your site so I’m nominating you for the Illuminating Blogger Award for informative, illuminating blog content. I know not everyone participates in blog awards but I hope you’ll at least check it out because it’s a great way to discover new blogs and meet new web friends. If you’re interested in participating, you can check out the details at my site … http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/ … Either way, hope you’re having a great day!

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