Monday, August 20, 2012

The River Told Me Not To Drink Bottled Water


Unfortunate collection of plastic garbage in the Arizona Canal at 7th Street

Most of the way into the summer, and I am more or less used to riding in the heat now. Sunday afternoon ride started out in the heat of the afternoon, riding into the sun, with a dry wind blowing, and I still felt strong riding Bip along the canal. My knee is indicating more rain coming this week, which is good, since we need it. Still very quiet out there, plenty of solitude to be found riding a bicycle along the canal path in the summer in the afternoon in Phoenix.

I was reminded by Iron Rider's comment about the first time I read the book Siddhartha. I was young, probably 22 years old, and was at a party at a friend's house late at night. I was going through some bookshelves in the house, and came across the book by Hermann Hesse. Paging through it, I was drawn in, and decided to start reading it, right there. Sitting in his basement, I read it straight through in a couple of hours, not wanting to put it down. A few people came by looking for me, but saw that I was totally wrapped up in it, and left me alone. I read it again this weekend, as a look back at an old friend from a new perspective. I can still see myself in that basement reading the book, and let me tell you, it was a very different experience reading it now, as you might expect. Essentially, my young self identified more with the young Siddhartha, while now I understand more of the middle and older man. All of which makes perfect sense I suppose.

The passages where the older Siddhartha listens to the river had me stopping a few places along the canal to listen to the water for a bit. This isn't about what I heard in the simply flowing sections, though, but rather what I heard and saw at 7th Street, where a Great Pacific Garbage Patch-like gyre of floating plastic refuse had collected. As the empties jostled and rolled in the current up against the gates, they made quiet bop bop bop sounds, not unpleasant, until I looked at them, and saw the nastiness.

There's some kind of twisted irony in empty plastic water bottles trashing up a canal system that was built for billions of dollars to carry water to a dry desert land. I guess it's not just water bottles, I see POP cups and other forms of colored sugar water product containers, an aluminum can or two, even a foam meat tray. All that plastic refuse can't be good for the amur catfish, or the duck families that call the canal home. And what about the yards, gardens, citrus groves, and fields downstream that use it for irrigation?

It was hard to hear the river speak with all that plastic bobbing around in it. I think I heard the river choking. Or maybe it was throwing up its hands and laughing at us, still trashing the planet even though we know better. Or maybe it was quieting down, storing up its river rage, preparing its answer for what we've done to it.

I think the young me, way back then, reading Siddhartha straight through in my friend's basement, held onto the belief that the older me, many years later, and particularly the older me's children, would live in a world that was cleaner and greener, where humans had learned the lesson of not just using something once then discarding it wherever it happened to land. Oh well. Sorry, younger me, and older me's kids. We didn't. Same old humans, same old river, same old use-it-and-throw-it habits. You can laugh at it, if you have the capacity to laugh at folly. That, along with picking up whatever trash you can reach and putting it into the trash receptacle ten feet away, is the only sane response. That's what it sounded like the river was saying to me, anyway.

6 comments:

  1. You get me almost every time. I read Siddhartha at about the same age, consuming it whole just as you did. Great post. Now I need to go dig up my copy.

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    1. Ah, reading and riding, I can't get enough.

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  2. Yes, all that trash in the canal should be in a landfill, where it's safer and cleaner because it's far away and we can't see it.

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    1. Less plastic stuff in the landfill would also be good, I think.

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  3. "He looked around, as if seeing the world for the first time."

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    1. Iron Rider, I want to think that listening to the river could lead to such a result. Sid. had to pass thru his Samana phase to get there, though, and I may not be suited to that. And: "What is it that you wanted to learn from teachings and teachers..."

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