This blog is devoted to increasing the awareness of our natural world and to the people working to conserve it. Approximately every three weeks, you’ll have the opportunity to vicariously follow along with David Cordray and discover the beauty, excitement, wonderment, and sometimes tragedy of our natural world.

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Nature at its Margins

July 18, 2019

A cute little bird with a candy corn-like beak emerges from under a tuft of woolly sedge, and then nervously scampers by, flicking its tail wildly, just feet from my boots. A sora rail, I grin, my first sighting of the season. I see a spotted sandpiper teetering by the edge of the stream, as if undecided in which direction he wants to go.  An Eastern meadowlark calls from the nearby tallgrass prairie. I take a hesitant step forward, flushing an adult pickerel frog. Get on with it David, I say to myself, you have to deal with the invasive plant species along the road. I shift into high gear, reaching the road easement quickly in ground-eating strides. I pause, take a moment to steel myself, open the metal gate and cross into another world.

 

I step over a beer can, a water bottle, and various other glittery pieces of litter. An SUV drives by, and the driver gives me a hard stare. A flock of house sparrows sitting on the fence irritate me with their annoying chatter. I look across the road at the matrix of houses arranged in neat rows and columns. Each house “featured” by an expansive deep-green lawn and tidy landscaping with colors segregated in their appropriate places; reds here, whites there and blues over there. I’m as nervous as a sora rail, I think. Thank goodness I don’t have a tail, its flickering would surely reveal my anxious state to all the eyes upon me now.

 

I move along the road right-a-way like a mythical warrior, coating enemy invading plants with blue-colored herbicide while sparing my prairie plant comrades. Many times each year I come to liberate the prairie front lines, hoping to hold the line at the road margin against an endless tide of foreign invasive plants that have only one lethal enemy – me!

 

The assortment of litter is now joined by yard waste: heaps of grass clippings, faded mulch, shrubbery trimmings, big-box store “disposable” flowers complete with potting soil and ID tags, and pieces of edging. Frustrated, I kick a tall pile of grass clippings and heave a few dried flowers closer to the road edge, foolishly hoping anyone watching will get the message. I remove my backpack sprayer and uncover a white wild indigo plant and several prairie sunflowers smothered in mountains of grass clippings.

 

I press on, learning to ignore the yard waste as I did the litter. Balancing precariously on pieces of concrete and limestone rock that armor the road drainage channel, I descend all the way down the steep bank to the floor of the drainage way. Disgust takes hold of me. Before me is a 4-foot diameter culvert, emptying the bowels of the subdivision. At my feet lie hundreds of cigarette butts, beer and soda cans, plastic bags, fast-food wrappers, plastic bottles, and countless other items from our disposable lifestyles.

 

Suddenly, I’m a 7-year-old boy again, grieving with the teary-eyed American Indian on TV as a pile of trash lands at his feet. The Keep America Beautiful ad’s phrase “People start pollution. People can stop it.” righteously gripping my idealistic young mind.

 

Five decades later, I grumble, and little has changed. I want to rise up and throw all the waste into the neighboring yards.  I want to get people’s attention. I want society to care. But I know my place. It’s best not to disturb a pack of content hyenas.

 

I lean a car tire on the fence, make my way back to the gate, and step back into a world I understand.

 

 

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