As I bend and scoop, pick and stoop low to the ground, amidst all the trash and debris, my heart hurts for the frogs, for the birds, and worms, even the slugs who call this urban habitat their home. They have no choice but to live with our mess; but we do. And although we could easily take responsibility for it, too often we don’t.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be spending as much time as I have been lately cleaning up garbage along the bed of a little stream that runs through the park at the end of my street had I not been ordered by the 86th District Court to do forty hours of community service, part of my sentence for a “use of marijuana” charge this spring. However, I took the opportunity to make the consequences of a bad experience better, by serving my community in a meaningful way. And I feel better for it, as it is something I care about and is something I have done before, and will continue to do even after my time is served.
When I started this clean up project, there were pop cans and plastic bags floating in the water. There was a plethora of rubbish that had been collecting amongst the log jams and weedy patches. The banks of this barely-trickling, polluted stream were lined with crushed water bottles, old lighters, straws with empty cups, chip bags and candy wrappers, hypodermic needles, and of course, plenty of cigarette butts. After years of neglect, this little piece of city forest had literally become saturated with trash.
Almost every time I dislodge a plastic bag from the soil, worms and bugs squirm in the bright morning sunlight. I’m amazed at how the woodland creatures just adapt to life with our junk, but I wonder how it affects their well being, their health, and even their reproductive capabilities. The frogs seem quite plentiful, regardless of the iridescent sludge that coats the surface of the water they live in. But still, I’m concerned about their quality of life, and I can’t help being troubled about the toxicity of their environment.
These days, I feel much like the animals I see living in murky, polluted waters, when I consider the state of our legal system, and specifically the so-called ‘War on Drugs’. Throughout the process of being charged, arraigned, and sentenced by the court, I often felt attacked and assaulted by the barrage of orders, demands, and paperwork; and then all the stipulations placed on me for allegedly committing a crime…an act that does much less harm than good. The stress of being made to feel like a criminal often left me feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, like I was swimming in poisonous water, fouled by a debase system that was designed to disgrace, shame, and destroy me.
Still, I feel persecuted for living my life how I see fit; for using one of nature’s greatest medicines to help heal myself after undergoing a hernia operation. I admit that I’ve used the herb for other purposes as well, but on this occasion, I was legitimately using medical marijuana for the pain and nausea I was experiencing after surgery. Unfortunately, I didn’t have card to allow me to use it, and the reason I got in trouble is simply because I had some cannabis with me and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Often it seems that is also the case with the rest of the animal kingdom…too often they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, for many animals, the wrong place is just about anywhere they might live, and the wrong time is increasingly becoming anytime they’re present. The creatures that live in the patch of woods at the end of my street don’t deserve to have their habitat trashed and contaminated. But that is the reality they live with, and they can’t even do anything about it; unless humans are willing to make a change. Now that I’ve put nearly forty hours of work into helping clean things up, their home is starting to look more like a forest again, rather than a dump.
Much like the other animals, we live amongst the detritus of a society that has been polluted by corrupted ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. Our garbage is an act of violence against our friends, our animal sisters and brothers, ourselves, and our one and only earth mother. Marijuana prohibition is as much an abomination in our legal system as the trash that clutters our greenscapes, rural or urban. We must fight against all this desecration and injustice, and begin the process of cleaning up our legal and physical habitats for the future of our planet, and for the sake of our collective health and posterity. If we don’t do it, then who will?