October 15, 2007

Being Kind to Mother Edisto

The Edisto River running through Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of only two black water rivers in the U.S. It is a beautiful river and a frequent source of artistic inspiration to me and to others. In my walks along the river I have chanced upon people who had been baptised in the river and have made pilgrimages back to this place of spiritual renewal. I've met people who were planning to be baptised in the golden water - stained the color of a richly brewed tea by the tannic acid of the cypress roots. I met a poet who comes back to the river to write along its banks. A dancer comes there to study the myriad complicated water eddies in search of inspiration for movements. I've studied these same swirls of golden light for patterns in my paintings. One woman, her love for the river palpable, simply refers to her river as "Mother Edisto," and is convinced that the water has curative powers.
For the past few years, however, this reverence for the Edisto has not been shared by all. By the increasing amount of litter along its banks in the Horne Wetlands park, there appears to be a growing disdain for this portion of an environmental preserve. It saddens and distresses me to see the white sands, the cypress knees, and the woodland flora defiled by beer cans and styrofoam food containers.
So for environmental blogging day I decided that I would do something close to home and personal. With garbage bag, gloves and boots in tow I set out on Sunday for the wetlands park. I had never picked up garbage before in a public park so this was a new experience for me. Like everyone else, I always just complained about it. But Mother Edisto and the Horne foundation had been good to me so I thought for at least one day I would return the favor. (In recent times, I have been working with paintings of figures walking into the Edisto River, one pictured above. Earlier, I had a grant from the Horne Foundation to make a sculptural bench for a hill overlooking the river.)
When I reached the Edisto with my rubber gloves donned and my garbage bag ready to receive its bounty of refuse I realized that there were some problems with my venture. The garbage had been tossed from the boardwalk and onto the banks of the river. I am fairly certain that park vistors are not supposed to mill around off the boardwalk but any attempt to retrieve garbage would neccessitate literally getting off the proscribed beaten path in order to reach it. Break a law to remedy a broken law? So not having had official permission to do this I decided to keep this project rather limited in scope, close to the boardwalk, and set a time limit.
This project turned out to be quite an educational experience. I had thought initially that it wouldn't be too difficult as I didn't recall there being a huge amount of garbage. But there was. I hadn't walked the banks more than an eighth of a mile before my garbage bag was almost full. (I stopped when I chanced upon a venomous snake coiled around a beer can - an intimidating site which might make its way into a future painting.) In the course of my garbage collecting I met well wishers and supporters. Many of them expressed the same perplexity as myself as to why someone would toss garbage onto the river bank within two feet of a garbage can. Some truly intrepid litterers would even have had to have lept off the boardwalk onto the bank, crawled under the boardwalk to stuff their garbage underneath it, then hoisted themselves back onto the boardwalk. All with a garbage can literally in front of them. It boggles the mind. The amount of the garbage stash undereath the boardwalk was quite a revelation. Most of the objects thrown away were soda and beer cans, various plastic items, and lots of styrofoam. But there were some very determined litterers who tossed big garbage items into the river - like a child's car seat. Yes - I removed it.
I have to admit with some guilt that I didn't go the distance and sort the garbage into items to be recycled but merely put the garbage into the trash receptical area at the park. But at least my own awareness was raised as to the extent of our local problem as was the awareness of others, who would peer into my bag at the terrible evidence collected into one undeniably ugly heap.

1 comment:

Genie said...

I learned so much from this post -- I didn't realize there were so few black water rivers, and didn't realize why they were called that. And I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that by physically taking action on Blog Action Day, you might actually be in the minority...so bravo for acting AND writing about it.