by Jackie Reid Dettloff
I love Wisconsin in October. I love the way the sumacs turn orange, the way the slender maples blaze yellow, red, and even purple, the way the sturdy oaks clutch their burnished, leathery leaves. Wild asters grace the clearings and golden rod turns dusty. To walk in October in the Wisconsin woods is to know the glory of this particular place on the planet where we have chosen to live. This year I had to be away for most of October and I missed the autumn colors. One of the first things I did after unpacking my suitcase was to head for the woods along the Beerline trail. I love the way we have a patch of forest right in our very backyard. Here in Riverwest, we don’t have to drive to find natural beauty; it is only a short walk away. So there I was, strolling down the trail and feeling glad to be back to the Wisconsin terrain that I had missed. South of Gordon Park I was going to walk towards North Avenue and then cut across to follow the path along the river. I’d heard there were lots of salmon swimming upstream. The sky was that clear unhazy blue that we get after the humidity of the summer. I was very happy to be back in my own Midwestern territory. And then, like a tumor on the landscape, there was a huge heap of discarded tires – at least fifty dirty, scattered rings of ugly rubber. Someone had dumped them alongside the trail between Clarke and Wright Streets. Which is to say that someone in a premeditated way must have loaded up a truck, snuck down the trail, and unloaded more than four dozen tires into our woods. They didn’t make the effort to go to either of the two disposal sites provided by the City. I say “our” woods because we all benefit from the unspoiled land along the river. I think of dog-owners, cyclists, hikers, fisherpeople, nature buffs, and hard-working people who get frazzled by their jobs and feel restored by the quiet beauty of the woods. I am simply outraged that someone would dare to use our woods as a dumping ground. I don’t know how to respond. Continuous surveillance does not seem realistic since most of us have such busy lives. I can’t very well imagine a posse of vigilantes patrolling the trails. I have spoken with police patrolmen and Adam Hartung, the Waste Tire Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee. They agree that such dumping of toxic waste in our woods is an outrage. They point out that if the perpetrators are found, they will be fined $700. Mr. Hartung has begun the process of removing the tires. But basically they all shake their heads and admit that they have no solutions to offer. What I’d like to do is post a sign, since I am unlikely to ever see the trashers face-to-face. This is what I have to say to the sneaky, lazy scumbags who have trashed our woods: Our woods are not a cesspool for you. You have no right to ruin a place that is precious to us. Our river is not your cesspool either. Not our trails, not our parks, not our riverbanks. You keep your garbage in your own backyard Or dispose of it properly like the rest of us do. If you are too lazy or too short-sighted to see for yourself, I will spell it out for you: Our neighborhood and our city are not a cesspool for you. We have just this one precious planet to live on. You do not have the right to trash it.