Earth Day Paddling
Photo: 2015 National River Cleanup Photo Contest winner: Montreal River Cleanup, Ironwood, MI. Photographer: Rob Hanson.
When we’re on the water we tend to think of cleaning up and clearing out in terms of tree limbs, logs, strainers – natural obstacles that get in the way of paddling. This is understandable given the hassle and safety hazard such obstructions in moving current pose. We paddle rivers to be on the water, not to have to climb over or duck under fallen trees, getting muddy, probably wet, possibly inviting exposure to poisonous plants, etc. I often call such obstructions “tree debris.” From the perspective of a paddler, they’re nuisances – even if cleverly engineered by industrious beavers. Much as to a hammer all the world’s a nail, to the paddler all obstructions in the water are simply seen as crap to get rid of to allow for safe passage.
But there’s another type of debris that we often encounter on the water, much to our chagrin, debris that is utterly unnatural in fact – and that is human garbage. Aluminum cans and bottles (plastic and glass) are typically the worst culprits, though the range of garbage bobbing on the water, snagged in a tree branch or washed up on shore is as enormous as it is alarming. Tires, front doors, screens, cinder blocks, bricks, coolers, CDs, styrofoam, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, rubber balls, golf balls, backpacks, dry bags, trash bags, car parts, whole cars, refrigerators, microwaves, stovetops, ovens, chest freezers, table tops; fishing rods, fishing line, flip flops, bras, bathing suits, life jackets, paddles, flip-flops… the list of miscellaneous flotsam is seemingly infinite.
Now, it’s one thing to saw off a branch or unclog a log jam by pulling tangled wood from the water and tossing them aside on the banks. But what about garbage? It’s either impractical or just impossible to haul off large garbage in a kayak. A canoe is a better bet, to be sure, but there are far fewer canoes on the water these days than kayaks. But wherever possible, whenever possible – whether in honor of designated Earth Day itself or always having it in mind – please consider taking a trash bag along on your paddling adventures and pick up any items you can sensibly manage in your boat – or tied down on top of your boat. As the saying goes, “many hands make light work.” Every bit helps and does make a difference and every bit is truly appreciated.