Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging, by Joshua Doležal, is a coming-of-age memoir about moving from the mountains of northwestern Montana to the Midwest.
There are a few rules for harvesting trash, as I have explained to my team of volunteers: Plastics such as drinking bottles and milk jugs should be drained and separated for recycling, so long as they are not filled with sludge or slime. Anything like a propane or an aerosol can with a hose attached, a bluish valve, or milky residue should be left untouched and reported to the local police as possible methamphetamine gear. If the recyclables and trash can be bagged in different colors, so much the better.
Each castaway item has a story: a flip-flop with a pregnancy kit, a yellow Pennzoil bottle, a foam smiley face from a boat antenna. Tires and propane tanks pile up by the dozens. Sometimes a refrigerator finds its way downstream. Where does it all come from? What is the story? After years of practicing the wilderness ethic of invisibility, I struggle to decipher this new text scribbled over the shoreline. It is too easy to dismiss expansion, a larger view. "The eye is the first circle," Emerson writes; "the horizon which it forms is the second." As I walk the shoreline, searching (almost hoping) for trash, I begin to think of all of the individual choices made, why someone might choose Arrowhead water over Fiji, and why, after buying clean water--after making that conscious choice--one would toss the bottle into the lake. Soda bottles tell a clearer tale, but nearly half the recyclable detritus in Iowa waterways once held commercial drinking water. How can this be?