The sad thing about vacations is that once you leave the county of your residence you immediately become a tourist. The question is what type of tourist are you going to be. For myself I have decided to give back in ways other than cash, to the biotic communities I visit. The ritual of picking up litter began last summer while I was on a pilgrimage to Walden Pond and the site of Thoreau's cabin.
This year on our way to the Green River we stopped at the Valley of Fire in Nevada,the Dixie National Forest, and at the National Parks in Zion and Bryce. Besides an inordinate number of German tourists, the one thing all these places had in common was a remarkable amount of micro trash. Usually this came in the form of cigarette butts. Hundreds of cigarette butts line every trail in the National park system, add to that candy wrappers and you will begin to get the picture of tourism in America.
I don't know about you, but the last thing I want to do while hiking through breathtaking wilderness is stop for a cancer break. And besides, if you are planning to bring cigarettes why not bring a small container for your butts. Obviously you enjoy nature, otherwise you wouldn't be sweating it up a 3 mile switchback trail, so why not protect it from your own suicidal habits. I just don't get it.
The Ticket Out ritual was inadvertently created when my friend, and fellow treehugger, Nancy May decided we could not leave the Valley of Fire without a "ticket out". This meant we all had to find at least one piece of trash. She made this declaration while we were standing next to an 18 by 8 cyclone fence enclosure surrounding a petrified log. Next to this log was a sign that said "Do Not Disturb," next to the sign was an empty Ketchup packet from McDonalds. I wonder if this disturbed the fossil. The ritual began.
By the time we reached Zion we knew finding a ticket out was not going to be a problem, so we had to add the extra insensitive of seeing who could find the most interesting piece of garbage. Our first day in Zion, Nancy and I hiked Watchman trail in the rain, returning with pockets full of trash, none of it notable. The next morning however, as we left the campground in search of caffeine, at the South entrance to the park we found a deck of playing cards scattered to the wind. They had been there for some time, and we found only forty three cards. The metaphor was clear.
Our next hike was the strenuous Emerald Pools Trail. At the foot of the trail, and before you cross the Virgin River, there is a sign asking visitors to stay out of the Emerald pools, as they are a very fragile environment and need protecting. With that, and a few words with the dime store cowboy who leads the aforementioned German tourists on of overworked horses, we headed up the hill. By the time we reached the lower pool my pockets looked like an ashtray, yet the true prize was waiting for me there.
Approaching what would be considered a puddle here in North County, I noticed a small rectangular piece of trash at the bottom of one of the crystal clear pools. Ignoring the sign I had read earlier--I was after all on a mission--I retrieved the debris. Turning it over, I had found my muse. This piece of litter turned out to be a discarded clothing tag bearing name of Brittany Pagano. It was at that moment Miss Pagano became myth.
As I we continued along the trails I began to notice that a lot of the small pieces of paper I had been collecting were in fact clothing tags. It all made sense to me now. Hikers in their new, REI purchased, outdoor apparel, were being annoyed by tags attached to the inside of shorts and shirts. To alleviate the discomfort they ripped out the tag, and instead of putting it in their pocket, they flung it to the ground as if it were evil incarnate.
Declaring Brittany the patron saint of litterers we then decided to spread the message of the Ticket Out ritual. Hiking the riverside walk at the Temple of Sinawava later that day, and all the hikes that would follow during our vacation, we made a show out of picking up litter. And if anyone acknowledged our effort we would then invite them to participate in the Ticket Out ritual. Here's to you Brittany Pagano, nature holds a place for those who stray. Hey Hey Hey.