Yes, it has been a while since I’ve been here. Sometimes it’s difficult to put together all the thoughts running through my head. I think I’ve found the analogy for what happens in my head. I have warm air rising rapidly and cold air falling rapidly and the result is a tornado of thought that needs to draw in some cooling rain to take the strength out of the chaotic vortex. (Saw that on the Weather Channel today as they followed the line of storms through North Carolina.)
However, today, April 16, 2011, was a day wherein I found myself challenged. Today the California State Parks Foundation sponsored a work day to prepare for Earth Day. PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) is the primary sponsor, with Home Depot, Starbucks and Dannon providing funding and support. I was one of a handful of lone volunteers standing ready to do my part for my local State Park, known as Millerton Lake State Recreation Area. Located less than half an hour north of most of Fresno, the lake is the result of a dam filling up a canyon. During late Spring, Summer and Early Autumn, this place is packed. There is a campground on the northwest shore of the lake. There are day use areas across the south and east sides. The lake itself meanders northward providing extra opportunities for water sports or just plain exploring. There are also hiking trails throughout the park.
Too many times, I have visited places of such grandeur and beauty as to make me stop and remember to breathe. Millerton Lake is one such place. Many decades ago there was a community where the lake now sits. Before that, there were aboriginal people enjoying a peaceful life. It was a truly beautiful place then, filled with trees and plants of a wide variety, wildlife enough to support the people, and weather that was neither too harsh in the winter nor too hot in the summer. No, there are no historical records of this. I have felt it. I have sat along the shore of the lake and felt the presence of those who were there. Surprisingly, their spirits are not saddened by the creation of the lake. They are, instead, quite content that their resting place will not be disturbed as so many around our land have been.
So today, a group of people gathered together to help keep this a place of beauty and peace, to help keep it safe for those who will utilize the area for recreational purposes. I don’t begrudge the people who come with their families, or individually, their presence here. The spirits of those forgotten find reason to smile with many of the visitors. However, they do not smile when they see one of the reasons our group was there today. The group in which I chose to participate was tasked with picking up trash along the south shore.
There are wide expanses of beach along the south shore of Millerton Lake. Some of the shore is dotted with formations of sandstone and granite. We are after all at the foothills of the mighty Sierra Nevada. For so many of us who grew up in Southern California, we never thought twice as children about running out onto the sand in our bare feet and scampering away from the edge of the encroaching Pacific Ocean. It would be unwise to do so today. Our coastal beaches and our lake beaches are fouled with the presence of humans. Take a look around. Drive down a street. You’ll see it. The refuse of a “throw-away” society. It doesn’t matter what it is, “someone else will clean it up”. Nowhere is this more evident, nor more painful to see, than at a “recreation” area.
Alcoholic beverages are not permitted within the California State Park system. As I’m sure you can guess, the one thing I picked up the most of was broken beer bottles. There was the occasional aluminum soda can and the odd candy or snack wrapper. I was not alone in this task. There was a small army of people scouring the sands and rocks and scrub looking for the evidence of humanity that should not have been there. In particular, were two young boys. They had come to the park to volunteer with their grandmother. As I stood next to the Ranger’s truck awaiting dispersal, the boys joined me. Grandma made sure they each had a cell phone to use in case of emergency. She looked to me to watch over the boys and I readily agreed.
When I say young, I estimate their ages at 8 and 5, maybe 6. We, those on the trash detail, were all given our own plastic bag. I could go on and on about the two hours the three of us spent chatting and combing the landscape, but suffice to say that these two boys were as hard working as anyone there. Leo, the younger of the two, took great pride in pointing out that his bag was getting heavy and more full than either Johnny’s (his brother) or mine. They were also quite pleased that we were following another group and finding things they had missed. I made sure, when we all returned to the tables, to let Grandma know that the boys did an awesome job.
I have determined that I will visit the lake more often and always carry my gloves and a trash bag or two. There has not been a single visit where I couldn’t have done some cleanup. It’s a small thing, but it’s good to get out into the fresh air, enjoy the gifts of Creator and Mother Earth, and give back a little in appreciation. Another benefit will be that I’ll be able to spend some time listening. I can listen to the Spirits of the lake: the ducks, the geese, the eagles. I can listen to the Spirits of the People, too, as they share how beautiful their lives were. In this way I can honor them.
Oh, and that challenge I mentioned at the beginning? Physical. I am reminded that I’m not as young as once I was. Again. It seems my knees are not particularly fond of crawling across rocks, trudging through mud and sand, and climbing even relatively small hills. I guess that means I need to do it more, and often.