Sunday, May 8, 2011

Who Is My Neighbor?

It is funny the things that make me feel like a grown up.  In the past decade I've graduated from college twice, worked in positions that could have been career choices, lived in four different countries, and all over the United States.  But none of these experiences, including purchasing and paying off a car, made me feel like a bona fide grown up.  This past winter, however, there's been a change.  Nothing makes me feel more adult than a utility bill and a 401k in my name, shoveling my own porch, purchasing non-essential decorative home items, talking about and planning my career path, and going to the dump.  For those of you who live in cities here is some news that make surprise you: in rural America people load up their garbage and take it to the dump.  There is no such thing as curbside pickup.

Growing up in rural Idaho, I remember trips to the dump.  It wasn't that we were rednecks--everyone took their trash to the dump.  "Going to the dump" was fun.  It meant that the kids rode in the back of the pickup (the only time we were allowed to) to keep the cans from falling over on the 1.5 mile drive to the dump.  The dump was on the shores of the Blackfoot River.  While my dad handled the trash I'd watch the canal-like river flow under the bridge.  At some point the big bins near my home were removed and now my parents wheel a large garbage can to the edge of the road once a week.  But here, in Gardiner, Montana, the dump tradition lives on.

Unlike the dump of my childhood, these dumpsters are surrounded by a tall chain link fence.  After 4 pm the main entrance is locked, but there is a small gate I enter on the side.  It is held closed with a few rocks.  I have no difficulty moving those rocks, which is why I think they do little to prevent other guests from doing the same.  The sign hung on the gate reinforces this idea.

It is a little creepy to be there alone.  There are a dozen ravens picking through the trash and at each other.  They perch on the dumpsters and seem confident in their ownership of the place.  The call loudly to each other and bicker over the choicest kitchen scraps.  Usually, I quickly toss my bag and cardboard in the appropriate bins and scurry back to my car before my imagination gets the better of me.

I like ravens, but those at the dump somehow seem very different than their cousins in the park.  Perhaps I am uneasy because this is the place where humans and animals interact.  The dump represents so many of the conflicts that occur as humans and animals meet on the fringes of each groups territory.  I drive home thinking of development, bears looking for food after a long winter of hibernation, mountain lions who need room to roam, and my own desire for a home and land to claim for my own.  In taking my trash to the dump I am acutely aware of my role in these clashes and that I cannot divorce myself completely from being part of the conflicts.  At the dump, I cannot ignore that I have a very real impact on the places and creatures I love--they are my neighbors too.  What I see at the dump is only a very small piece of a much bigger puzzle.

Being all grown up isn't anything like what I imagined it would be.


fm7 said...

I never thought of the dump as the demarcation between mankind and the animal world. Interesting.

evieperkins said...

Being all grown up is a lot more about getting the laundry and dishes done than I envisioned it to be.