It was already hot as I walked the dog at 9:30 this morning along one of our customary routes on a wooded path that follows a creek. Not Bermuda-in-July hot, but hot enough that the little beast began to pant by the time we reached the end of the front walkway. Hot enough that the birds had already taken shelter deep in the musty interior of cedar hedges. Hot enough that I grew a sweat moustache. But not Bermuda-in-July hot.
Our destination was a loop around a small duck pond, perhaps a distance of ½ a kilometre (about 1/3 of a mile for the non-metric ). In that short distance I could have filled a kitchen sized garbage bag with pop cans and bottles, Styrofoam fast food containers, take-out coffee cups, cigarette butts and empty packages, plastic grocery bags, and water bottles, a pink cardigan, a toddler’s sandal, a bathing suit, a baseball hat, and a bicycle tire inner tube.
I’m puzzled by litterbugs especially in a pretty setting like the micro forest around the duck pond. This same forest was decimated by the Emerald Ash Borer over the last five years but in June the city planted a variety of new seedlings and already it is filling out, all sorts of greenery wiggling up through the mulch that was created when the foresters chopped down the dead trees. Planners with a sense of whimsy planted sunflowers now reaching up and surpassing the seedlings, big yellow heads reflecting the sun back to the heavens. Soon they’ll provide food for the birds, too. But scattered on the forest floor is an ugly abstract mat of garbage.
In 9 days in spectacularly verdant Bermuda, a place that thrives on tourism and banking, we traveled the island using local buses. We wound through luxury tourist areas as well as private homes reflecting various levels of economic status. On several long walks, one of which we were lost (as much as one can be lost on an island 21 miles long by 1 mile wide), we never saw any litter. None.
There is only one North American style fast-food outlet in Bermuda – Kentucky Fried Chicken. No McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway, Pizza Hut and none of the garbage that attends them. Yes, there’s “fast-food”, like “Four Star Pizza” in Flatts Village, or the take-out huts at touristy Tobacco Bay and Horseshoe Bay (where a hot dog will set you back $6.00 US but the $10 fish and chips was a heart-attack inducing quantity and delicious surprise). At Horseshoe Bay there are HUNDREDS of tourists and their bodies litter the beach but there’s no trash. At least not the junk kind. I won’t talk about the bathing suit choices of my fellow tourists and their junk on display.
Water is not plentiful in Bermuda. There are no natural freshwater lakes, streams, or rivers. Clever colonists developed a method of collecting rainwater from their roofs but regardless, water is a scarce resource and tourists stress the ecosystem and run the wells dry.
Canadians are water profligates. We think water is our birthright. Water sources surround me – two historic rivers, a creek and within a short drive outside the city are dozens of lakes and small rivers that feed into the mighty Ottawa River that in turn leads to the even more impressive St. Lawrence River.
When we reached our holiday cottage on the grounds of a private home in Smiths Parish, Bermuda, we were asked to take care with our showering habits and use water wisely. Tell two teenage girls and a husband who produces enough sweat to power hydro electricity not to shower every day and you have a mutiny. Fortunately, our host had a pool which we used at the end of our daily adventures to desalinate ourselves. The kids showered by turning water on and off. First step: get wet. Turn off water. Soap up. Rinse. Same process for hair. No standing for 10 minutes under running water just to annoy your sister waiting outside. We managed.
During our mid-July visit, Bermuda’s UV index regularly hit 11 (I didn’t know it went that high) and the humidity hovered between 80-85%. If you’re using buses to move around and you find yourself standing in a limestone bus shelter to get out of the sun, you won’t escape the humidity. You sweat. And if you’ve decided that you’ll carry your own containers of water because you don’t want to buy the packaged stuff and create litter, you’re going to run out. Fast. You end up buying bottled water. Every tourist does. Because if you don’t you’ll dehydrate and one of the Island’s feral chickens will peck your eyes out when you keel over into the underbrush. In fact, maybe that’s what happens to any wayward trash. The crazy chickens that cluck at you as you walk by a hibiscus thicket woven with asparagus ferns are the clean-up crew.
One day, we went to the quiet local beach in Smith’s Parish rather than bus to one of the glamour spots on the south shore.
At this beach, a couple of fellows had set up a canopy under which they had coolers filled with bottled water, soda, and juices for sale. Across the street from them a group of men had gathered, celebrating. A few hours later as we were leaving, they were obviously happier than when we arrived. One fellow hailed my husband and said, “It’s my birthday today” which started a conversation between the two of them. The kids and I continued to the bus stop around the bend, leaving my husband to chat to the partiers. After 15 minutes of waiting, the bus was coming but not my husband. I ran to get him but he was already on the way, smiling and holding a plastic cup containing rum and ginger beer and ice. He drank it down, dropped the empty cup into the trash can, and boarded the bus. As we drove by the party, I noted there was no trash.
Back in our tiny forest in Ottawa, there is a narrow path that cuts through the trees and sometimes I take it because it is cool and provides good sniffing for the dog. Occasionally, I come across a group of men who sit on felled logs, smoking pot and drinking. They don’t hail me and I pretend not to see them. Surrounding their makeshift party is the detritus of their good time – coke cans, McDonald’s bags, beer cans, half eaten burgers, ketchup packages, and plastic forks. It will still be there when they are not.