“Signs, signs, everywhere a sign…”

Trees – Not TrashSpringtime color is beginning to flow over the range. A Red-bellied Woodpecker just landed atop the swingset. It is a distinctive creature, its back a mosaic of black bands and white triangles. A bright red skullcap extends back to its shoulders. My books report there is some red on its belly, but rarely is it visible.

A few Northern Mockingbirds have dropped by, while overhead Snow and Canada geese head for their nesting grounds. These are welcome signs, dulling the sharp pain of cabin fever.

Less beloved are other signs, mostly yellow and black, that mark the forest boundaries along the region’s highways and byways.

“Trees… Not Trash,” one new sign exhorts passersby. “STOP FOREST DUMPING.”

At various places along that and other roads lie the odd burger joint Styrofoam soda cup or burger wrapper, but also televisions, tires, and an occasional worn out sofa or a busted recliner. It is amazing what effort some people will undertake to avoid paying a few dollars to have the flotsam hauled to a legal landfill.

One wonders what would be the reaction from the dumpers if forest-goers – hikers and mere wanderers – would collect from the public back yard a load of the discard and dump it in its owner’s yard. Obviously, that’s not a serious recommendation, if for no other reason than catching and identifying the miscreants is nigh impossible.

Every action forces a reaction, and so it is that disrespectful back road dumpers lead to “No Trespassing” signs. An ill-kept secret is my hatred of them, even while I understand their birth.

When I was young, growing up on the shore of a 500-acre lake with thousands of acres of undeveloped mountains in which to wander, smelt ran every Spring in a stream that flowed through my parents’ land and into the lake. Smelt, for the uninitiated, are small silver fish, about three or four inches long, often used as bait to catch larger fish. Many people pan fry them, or “smoke” them, to eat; they are quite tasty. The annual run was the fishes’ response to a biological need to lay eggs in the fast running water and create their next generation.

I was raised with the notion that the land was there before we arrived, and would be, albeit probably changed some in purpose, after we left. Anticipated purposes included hunting and passage for a winter interstate snowmobile trail that carried travelers across our land and the lake on their way to and from Canada and Wisconsin. Many people, including Yours Truly, wandered the woods, spying on deer, moose, raccoons and a seemingly endless variety of birds and other critters.

But every Spring the smelt ran and the stream became a dump site as drunken revelers built campfires and left behind empty beer cases, with cans and bottles scattered across the land – the spoor of late night partiers who howled from midnight until dawn, when the fish went back downstream to the lake.

Eventually, my parents had enough, and came the game wardens to post “Closed to the taking of Smelts” signs. That was too bad. A few slobs had ruined the fun for everyone.

We never had “No Trespassing” signs along the road. Anyone who wished to stop at roadside and mosey into the timber was welcome to enjoy whatever life could be found there. But smelting was ended, probably forever.

The land where I now wander with dog and camera is public property. Would that those who would holler loudly at trash being dumped on their own land be as demanding of respect when the land has been bought with public dollars, including theirs.

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