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


These are images from my first visit to a site where I am working on documenting the land. I wasn’t initially going to post these as I consider them to be snapshots really, quick reference images for the start of the project but I now see some value in them, even if it’s just for myself. A small introduction:
It is strange perhaps, to be intrigued by a landfill. In a way it is an interest 20 years or so in the making. Twenty years of driving by; observing, passing glances, fleeting questions. Images stuck in my head.

I pass no judgement on this place. I only want to get a sense of it, to understand it and to learn. In a way I know that part of me is already here. A cast-off part. I am one of the small bones in the spine of the ridge that makes up this place. I am implicated.
There is also a beating heart to this place. We have shaken hands. We share a respect, for the landfill, for each other. The beating heart and the fragment of spine have an understanding. I am after the beauty of it. I’m not sure how this will unfold exactly…

All images © Karen McRae