Friday afternoon at the national park campground check-in window, we nose our old camper van behind six other rigs. I have time to take in the new surroundings as, one by slow-minute-one, the attendant processes the reservations. I see the park motto: Leave no trace.
I understand what the sign means—clean up after yourself, don’t leave a mess at the campsite or anywhere else, be wary of the bears and store your food in the vehicle and garbage in the steel bins provided. Most of the time, I file the recommendations away to be pulled out of that compartment in my brain when I need them. Today, though, the guilt feelings that have festered since the shopping trip the day before to stock the camper break the skin in bulbous postules. True, if we are careful, the campsite and park may not be be scarred with pockmarks of our passage, but other sites in time and space will surely be.
We are camping without electricity this round, and convenience has won out. I tucked 30 bottles of water into the camper closet (unable, as well, to resist 30 bottles for $6.00). At the very least, those bottles will consume energy to recycle, if indeed they make it that far. Ditto for the plastic cups, plates, and cutlery we will be using to offset indirect access to hot water. Five meals for four people: at least twenty plates and corresponding utensils. Add in the foil broil pans to cover the grill of the campsite fire spot. Although I could technically reuse those a limited number of times, chances are, again for convenience, I will pitch them this time. Factor in the Lysol wipes I have in stock to mitigate hot water issues, and the environmental toll mounts.
To that total, I could add the footprints from other moments in the day. I start the morning with a shower. As I scrub down, I wonder about the homes and hotels running multiple showers multiple times a day. At the filling station where we stop to check the tire pressure, I have a clear view of the touchless car-wash. One vehicle has entered, and a black half-ton waits its turn, on a non-descript Friday morning of summer, albeit after a torrential rain. Pressurized hot water sprays every crevice of the vehicle. I don’t want to estimate the gallons / litres consumed for vehicles that might use the service that day in our city times the number of touchless car-washes in our country, never mind on the planet.
On the way to the park, we stop for a sandwich. The travel stop is a busy place—line-ups at both food outlets. To the garbage, my husband and I contribute two plastic bags, two plastic cups, two waxed papers and a wad of napkins. You used a tub and cloth bags for your shopping yesterday, I tell myself. You just about never use disposable dishware. Okay, true enough. Still, somehow, that rationale just doesn’t seem to cut it.
I am overwhelmed by the toll our own lifestyle is taking on the planet, and how little a difference our efforts to be responsible might make in the grand scheme of things. I am not surprised that animals whose habitat is compromised stalk landfills and campgrounds, that the oceans vomit garbage, that the carbon levels in the atmosphere confuse weather patterns, or that the earth cries out in death throes. Frankly, I am amazed at the earth’s resilience over the four hundred brutal years since industrialization. I am astounded—that the earth has endured for this long, that it has taken this long for its screams to be heard, and that the collective will to change our lifestyle paradigms is not yet galvanized.