A View From the Road

A “Happy Shamrock Day” lawn sign. But it’s May, so why is it still lying in the grass?

A newspaper from two weeks ago still in its plastic wrapper. Not too strange, but it’s lying under a hedge of White Pines a good 200 feet from the nearest driveway. An errant toss or did the wind and rain help it travel to its new pine-needle bed?

And up next? A lotto ticket, and another, and another, and yet another. Like soldiers lined up single file, the tickets litter the grass along the road. Was the original owner checking his numbers and discarding the losing tickets, checking and discarding, checking and discarding, as he walked down the road? Or was it coincidence that they fell perfectly in place after being discarded in one fell swoop out a moving car window?

A gigantic piece of plastic, the remnants of a Pottery Barn delivery, nestled against the train trestle; a garbage bag full of empty bleach bottles hidden by grass clippings; a Diaper Genie knock-off and with it a whale-shaped baby bath tub next to the trailhead kiosk; and the list goes on and on…

One can only guess at how items such as these, and many others, arrive along the roadside. The lottery tickets and certainly the newspaper aren’t so unique, yet they also aren’t the norm of cigarettes and bottles which unfortunately have become part of the typical scenery one passes every day. Whether it’s the car ride to work or to the store or to the beach, an assortment of items – garbage, if we must call it what it is – have become a constant in the view from the road.

But does anyone notice or care anymore? Has it just become normal to discard a bottle, a lunch bag, a St. Patrick’s Day sign out the window or off to the side of the road? Or to leave your newspaper, your phonebook, your pesticide application signs at the front of your drive until the wind or the rain destroys them or whisks them off to become your neighbor’s burden?

Perhaps the only one who cares is the lone volunteer who dutifully cleans the road every month as part of the local “Adopt A Road” program. Not those companies that have the money to buy the signs (and the labor) on prominent county roads, more for advertising than for conservation, but the grassroots, local environmental groups who commit their members’ time and energy to walking the road they have adopted every month to pick up the garbage left there by others. Thank goodness for these groups and the Towns, like Southampton, that have these programs!

The question truly is, however, why is the garbage there in the first place? Why is it that homeowners, whether they inhabit their houses year-round or not, can’t pick up the garbage around their own house? Why do people think it’s okay to throw garbage out the window of their passing cars? Why is it okay to dump household or work materials in the woods? Bottom line is, it’s not. It may seem easier and cheaper than hiring a company to take care of the garbage or buying green bags at the store and taking a trip to the local dump. But have these people taken the time to consider the bigger cost? The toll tossing just one bottle out the window or letting your newspaper with its plastic cover wash down the street will have on the environment?

We’re lucky on the East End of Long Island that local town governments, and more importantly local activists and community groups, have done a lot of work over the last 30 years to preserve much of the open space in the area. Yes, many areas that were once forests or farm fields now host mcmansions or developments. Yet there are still many areas that have been preserved for future generations thanks to organizations such as Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, the Southampton Trails Preservation Society, the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, the Peconic Land Trust, the Group for the East End, The Nature Conservancy, and the South Fork Natural History Society, along with the Community Preservation Funds that were established in Southampton and East Hampton Towns (all five East End Towns in fact). Without their efforts and dedication, many of our children wouldn’t know what it means to be able to follow a deer trail in the woods or listen to the peepers or bull frogs serenade you as you pass by a pond.

We are lucky that many areas have been saved, but now how do we keep them from becoming dumping grounds? It shouldn’t be so hard and yet it is. Why are the places that the community (at least a portion of it) has fought to protect over the years the first target to be desecrated? Is it the remainder of the local population or our occasional neighbors and visitors who are to blame? There’s no reason to debate this. The blame lies with all of us. Even if it’s not our mess, it’s our responsibility to clean it up. We have to for the sake of our unique environment here on the East End and for the generations that expect to enjoy it in the future (hopefully many whose families have been here for generation upon generation). Even if we just started with the front of our own houses – be it beachfront, roadway, or both. This would be a start. Next perhaps more people would consider adopting their own roads, committing to keeping them clean even if it’s just an hour a month. There are bigger issues that need to be addressed – illegal dumping in preserved areas, increased patrolling for littering, etc., but starting at home is something everyone can do.

Perhaps soon the interesting items that we pass along the road will be the native wildflowers, the views of the ponds, eggshells from newly hatched robins or turtles wandering into the grasses, rather than plastic, aluminum and glass in various shapes and sizes. These natural sites are already there, they are just often obscured by the litter and one day may be destroyed by it if action isn’t taken soon. In the meantime, one can only continue to hope for change and do what she can (like picking up the trash) to preserve the beauty of the view from the road.