On The Trail Again

IMG_0040

The dogs and I are back on the trail again. Part urban, part rural, the path we choose on any given day may take us along small town streets, down country lanes, next to train tracks used by the Denton County light rail system, or to the shores of Lewisville Lake. We might walk next to a cemetery, a soccer pitch, a softball field, city hall buildings, a man-made tyrannosaurus rex statue, a family of llamas, horses, cows, chickens and roosters, or through small nature areas. On a recent hike, I saw a road runner where I had previously seen one years ago. It was great to see the bird again.

Shady Shores, Corinth, and the northern edge of Lake Dallas are the primary communities where we find our trails. Hikes can be as short as 1 mile or as long as 10 (depending on our energy and available time). The variation in scenery and the rustic natural beauty in and around these small towns is quite appealing.

An interesting thing happens when you walk streets that are normally driven: you notice things. Sometimes it’s a bush or a tree or a creek that, when passed at 35 miles an hour or faster, looks like a blur or a flash. Yet, when approached at walking speed that same object pops into sharp focus. Bright flowers, green leaves, rough tree bark, glittering water, fish, birds, and other wildlife begin to appear and the unique features and beauty of each can be appreciated.

Unfortunately, the same concept applies to litter.IMG_0035

I am always amazed at how much trash we are exposed to in our daily lives. Sometimes I wonder if, as a society, we have simply become numb to the point that we don’t see the trash around us – it essentially blending in and becoming a normal part of our urban landscape. Whatever the case may be, trash that is invisible when driving by in a car begins to stand out with jarring visibility when seen while walking. It cannot be ignored.

I have a rule when on foot: if I am literally stepping over trash or see it within 5-10 feet on either side of me, I will pick it up. I have IMG_0036resumed my old habit of carrying plastic grocery bags with me so that I can pick up and carry back the trash that I find. Recently I came to the unfortunate conclusion that grocery bags were not big enough and started taking my 45-liter North Face backpack with me.

On the trail, the dogs wait patiently as frequent stops are made to pick up litter. Gradually our routes are cleaning up. The sad thing is that this is a job with no end: new trash appears almost as fast as it is carried out. Thinking about that too much can be depressing and lead to thoughts of giving up. It’s much more productive to focus on the positive aspects of taking action – it feels good to be making a contribution no matter how slight or fleeting the overall impact.

IMG_0045

Roadside litter.

IMG_0037

Roadside litter.

IMG_0073

A full bucket and full trash bag ready for loading. The backpack already has two large glass wine bottles inside. The bucket was found wedged in bushes along the trail.

IMG_0075

A 45-liter backpack stuffed full of trash. The bucket was refilled with litter on the way home.

Changes

The company I work for provides annual health examinations and I am a regular participant. The results from this year’s exam were something of a wake-up call and provided personal insight in two areas: 1) if health improvements are to be realized, several personal lifestyle changes are necessary and, 2) when it comes to exercise, I can make prolific, creative, and compelling excuses for being lazy at a world-class level.

One of the areas requiring change is physical activity, as in daily exercise. A few years ago, some friends of mine at the office purchased Fitbit exercise trackers and we had great fun challenging each other for supremacy in daily and weekly step totals. One friend that I had a big rivalry with once told me that his plan was to wait for me to go to bed at night at which point he would check my daily step total. No matter how many steps were needed or what time at night it was, his promise was that he was going to walk up and down his street and around his house until his step total topped mine, even if by a single step. Great fun!

Life is for the living and simply “living” requires energy. Long days at work, difficult family situations, commuting in stop-and-go traffic, for me, are all significant challenges to a steady and healthy daily exercise regimen. Tired at the end of a long day? Instead of coming home to exercise, it is much easier to shed the work clothes, put on something more comfortable, listen to stories about the work day, have some dinner, and go to bed.

With those thoughts in mind, a once active, Fitbit-oriented exercise regimen begins a downward trend. Coming home each evening fewer and fewer steps are logged. Even the immense pressure of a passionate “welcome home!” greeting by excited dogs with happy, expectant faces and glittering, hopeful eyes is overcome by the weariness of work and the effects of exposure to negative energy. Daily step totals fall to 5,000 steps with some days not even hitting that mark. The excuses are readily available, rational, and easy to accept. The onset of a sedentary lifestyle begins and seems reasonable given the circumstances. The consequences of low activity are irrationally considered to be something that will happen to someone else, certainly not me.

At its peak, my daily step totals easily surpassed 10,000, sometimes even 15,000 steps. One weekend day (or was it a vacation day?) over 40,000 steps were achieved. A Fitbit group can provide great motivation for exercise, however there is no pressure quite like that applied by dogs who are used to being walked. Many of my previous exercise-oriented walks occurred while attached to dog leashes with four-legged friends leading the way. The results from my health exam contained some concerning news, however they also included guidance for taking action. A primary recommendation is to significantly increase daily exercise. That I can do, and with a few small schedule tweaks, can lay the foundation for a solid, long-term commitment. To the delight of my furry friends, the leashes have come out of retirement and the “Road Crew” is back in action!

IMG_0145

The “Road Crew” getting after it.

National Trails Day

NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1428 v3jh copy

June 1, 2013: Fishing Hole Lake
National Trails Day was celebrated on June 1st this year. Quoting a web source regarding the history of the event, “Since 1993, the first Saturday of every June is known as National Trails Day, inspiring the public and trail enthusiasts nationwide to seek out, discover, learn about, and celebrate America’s trail system…” The source continues, “…National Trails Day evolved from the 1987 report of President Ronald Reagan’s President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. The report recommended that Americans should be able to walk out their front doors and within 15 minutes, be on trails that take them through their cities or towns and bring them back without retracing any steps. The recommendation, also known as Trails for All Americans, inevitably motivated several public and private parties to join the American Hiking Society in launching National Trails Day in 1993.

REI, in association with GroundWork Dallas, NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1432 v2jh copysponsored a local event celebrating National Trails Day focused on a small section of urban wilderness known as Fishing Hole Lake. Fishing Hole Lake is under development as a part of the Elm Fork Green Belt Park Project. The spring weather has been relatively cool this year and the sky was overcast for the 49 volunteers who arrived to participate. The cloudy skies made for good working conditions and, according to Peter Payton of GroundWork Dallas, 5 miles of trail were cleared and improved and 2,400 pounds of trash was collected and hauled away to the dump.

NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1458 v2jh copyThe Elm Fork is one of the four branches of the Trinity River (the other branches are the West Fork, the Clear Fork and the East Fork). Many of the lakes in North Texas are fed by the Trinity River, its branches and the various creeks that empty into it and are major sources of water for the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area. The Trinity runs right next to downtown Dallas and the city has proposed major urban renewal projects that involve the creation of parks and other public gathering spaces along the banks of a revitalized Trinity River.

Special thanks to REI Outreach Specialist Renee Shippey and GroundWork Dallas Executive Director Peter Payton for organizing the event. A very successful and rewarding experience!

Reference
1. National Trails Day: http://usparks.about.com/od/trailspathsdayhikes/a/national_trails_day.htm
2. American Hiking Society: http://www.americanhiking.org/
3. National Trails Day Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NationalTrailsDay
4. Trinity River Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_River_(Texas)
5. Trinity River Branches Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bachman_Branch
6. Groundwork Dallas: http://www.groundworkdallas.org/
7. REI Stewardship & Volunteer Opportunities: http://www.rei.com/stewardship.html

Photos
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1415 v3jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1430 v2jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1426 v2jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1441 v2jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1446 v2jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1448 v2jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1451 v3jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1460 v3jh copy
NatlTrlDay-June 01, 2013-DSC_1473 v3jh copy

Earth Day Resolution

EarthDay-November 24, 2012-DSC_0728 v2jh

The trailer for the documentary “Trashed” opens with a spectacular view of the Earth from space. The narrator begins with the words: “From up here our planet looks perfect. It’s only when we look more closely that we start to see some of the results of our consumption…”

EarthDay-February 24, 2013-DSC_1121 v2jhThe same is true of Lake Lewisville… From a distance it too looks beautiful. However, upon closer examination the damage of our negligence is clearly seen. Trash, litter and general pollution are constant companions when visiting the lake and the sheer volume can sometimes be overwhelming. This blog was started with the goal of being a catalyst for change. The hope being that through words and images, that others would become aware of the situation and take positiveEarthDay-December 23, 2012-DSC_0949 v2jh action. However, creating a blog doesn’t really do anything to improve the condition of the lake – a blog is a virtual medium, after all. If tangible results were the desired outcome, something additional would be required.

I associate the lake with fresh air, good times and a chance to be at one with nature. I was prepared to EarthDay-January 27, 2013-DSC_1047 v2jhinvest a substantial amount of energy into making a positive difference, but I didn’t want the activity to diminish my enjoyment of the lake. I also didn’t want to commit to something that was so onerous that I would burn out after a short period of time. In the end, I found the answer in the concept of leaving an area in a better condition than it was found.
EarthDay-December 24, 2012-DSC_0956 v2jhThe volume of trash is such that the actions of one person on any given day are not going to make a significant impact. Only long term, repeated actions and the involvement of others will truly make a difference. However, with each visit I can certainly pick up and carry away a small amount of garbage. Further, it does not matter whether trash is pickedEarthDay-November 24, 2012-DSC_0773 v2jh up at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a lake outing. In fact, making trash the focus of a trip or paying too much attention to it during an outing has the potential to ruin the adventure. The commitment I decided to make is to pick up trash at the end of each visit. In general, I start picking up anything I can find when I’m 15-20 minutes away from my car. It is surprising how much garbage can be removed in those final few minutes at the end of an outing!

It is with those thoughts in mind that I want to recognize an organization I recently discovered while driving to work (I saw their billboard sign on the side of the road). The name of the group is called “ReverseLitter.com” and they are also working to clean up litter. Their website is full of good information and they promote an interesting call-to-action called the “Ten on Tuesday” pledge. Although my approach to cleaning up the environment is a little different, we are both in pursuit of the same goal.

Pledges, commitments and promises to improve remind me of New Year resolutions. Many people begin each year with resolutions to make positive changes in their lives and, with Earth Day 2013 just passing, I wonder if we are in need of Earth Day resolutions. What is your Earth Day resolution? What can you do to make a positive difference? What will you do to leave your part of the world in a better condition for future generations?

Reference
1. Earth Day Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_Day
2. Trashed Film Trailer: http://vimeo.com/41514228
3. Trashed Film Website: http://www.trashedfilm.com
4. ReverseLitter.com: http://www.reverselitter.com

EarthDay-April 01, 2013-DSC_1200 v2jh

Winter Beauty

Something I find very compelling about Lake Lewisville is that, despite being man-made and located within one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, when her natural beauty is revealed it can be breathtaking.

On a bright winter day in early January, I decided to take the kayak out and reconnect with the lake. With no wind to ripple its surface, the water was like glass – a perfectly polished mirror reflecting the deep blue sky. There were very few people out that day and, with the wind and water being so still, the noise from the nearby interstate highway was the only real reminder that I was still in Dallas and not a truly remote and wild area.

This video was made from images captured using a GoPro Hero 2 and an iPhone 4. Production work was done on an iPad 2 using 1st Video software from VeriCorder Technology.

Winter. from Justin Huffaker on Vimeo.

Learned Behavior

I saw it happen recently while visiting a local Costco warehouse. A mother and her young daughter were walking up to the store. The child ran ahead, grabbed a shopping cart and began climbing in. Once inside, the girl noticed a discarded clear plastic bouquet bag lying in the basket area. She quickly reached down, grabbed the bag and tossed it over theLitter-November 18, 2012-DSC_0721 vSmall v2jh edge where it fluttered to the ground and began to blow away. Mom gave a reproachful shout, chased and caught the bag. She then brusquely pulled the girl out of the cart, handed her the bag and sternly pointed to the trash.

As glad as I was to see simple environmental knowledge being passed from one generation to the next, I began to wonder about our internal wiring and natural tendencies. There are many behaviors that seem counterintuitive to young children that make perfect sense to adults. Don’t run in the house, toys must be shared with others, demonstrate good manners and that people should be treated with respect are some of the early lessons that everyone learns. It seems we must also be taught not to litter.

Remember Ranger Rick, Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear? Sometimes parents are aided by fictional, cartoon characters in teaching their children good conduct in the wilderness. Woodsy Owl is famous for his “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” message and Smokey Bear is legendary for his statement that “Only YOU Litter-November 18, 2012-DSC_0700 vSmallcan prevent forest fires.” Of course, the hope is that cartoon characters will appeal to a young audience and their Earth-friendly message will be retained throughout life.

Education often takes a lifetime and message reinforcement is sometimes needed. Since the 1950s, advertising campaigns and television commercials have been used on both a national and state level to remind people of basic Earth etiquette. Quite possibly the most famous anti-pollution television message featured the crying Indian. Originally released in 1971 as part of a national campaign, the commercial was wildly successful at raising awareness of the tragedy of pollution and, more importantly, establishing an emotional connection with the issue. During the late 80s and early 90s, the state of Texas implemented a very successful anti-littering campaign featuring celebrities from Texas and the phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas.” According to Wikipedia, “The campaign is credited with reducing litter on Texas highways roughly 72% between 1986 and 1990. The campaign’s target market was 18-35 year old males, which was statistically shown to be the most likely to litter.” A commercial featuring blues rock legend Stevie Ray Vaughan was the first installment of this campaign and was one of the most popular versions.

Despite their effectiveness, the popularity of these campaigns is only momentary. Inevitably, attention and commitment fade as time passes. As I travel through my tiny corner of the world on foot, bike and kayak, I am stunned by the presence of so much litter. It is so ugly, wrong and out-of-place; I find myself asking, why? Why do people litter? Isn’t it self-evident that litter and pollution are wrong? Why are campaigns like those previously mentioned needed in the first place? Catchy slogans like “Keep America Beautiful” and “Don’t Mess with Texas” only go so far. What breakthrough in our social consciousness is needed so that there is less litter not more?

References
Television Campaigns
1. Keep America Beautiful featuring Susan Spotless PSA – YouTube
2. Crying Indian PSA #1 – YouTube
3. Crying Indian PSA #2 – YouTube
4. Crying Indian PSA #3 – YouTube
5. Stevie Ray Vaughan PSA – YouTube
6. Confederate Air Force PSA – YouTube
7. Woodsy Owl PSA #1 – YouTube
8. Woodsy Owl PSA #2 – YouTube
9. Smokey Bear PSA #1 – YouTube
10. Smokey Bear PSA #2 – YouTube
11. Smokey Bear PSA #3 – YouTube
12. Smokey Bear PSA #4 – YouTube

Wikipedia
13. Keep America Beautiful
14. Litter
15. Don’t Mess With Texas
16. Woodsy Owl
17. Smokey Bear
18. Ranger Rick

Litter

A recent issue of National Geographic magazine featured an article discussing the human population of Earth reaching 7 billion. To accommodate the growth of humanity and our widening global footprint, cities spread inexorably into rural and wilderness areas leaving shopping malls and housing subdivisions where farmland and forests once stood. The phenomenon is called urban sprawl, and it is responsible for habitat loss and the displacement of large numbers of wild animals. However, urban sprawl is only one side effect of our growth that is negatively impacting the natural world; the unprecedented increase in garbage and human refuse is another.

People create an enormous volume of trash; an incredible amount of trash becomes litter and litter frequently makes its way into the wilderness. Whether introduced accidentally or through sheer carelessness, litter in a natural setting is jarring; a highly visible blight identifying the unmistakable presence of Man. Urban natural areas (the parks, forests, rivers and lakes that are in close proximity to cities) are frequently heavily utilized for recreation and therefore exceedingly vulnerable to human impact. We seek out these natural areas as an antidote to city life and too many times, frequently because of our litter, leave them in poor condition. Multiply the nuisance and damage of litter from a single individual by the thousands of visitors that these natural areas are exposed to on an annual basis and the problem grows exponentially.

Litter is a purely human creation and finding so much of it within our urban natural areas is a tragedy. The struggle of wild creatures innocently living their lives within a habitat increasingly polluted by our trash is sadly compelling. It is my hope that the photography and stories found on this blog will draw attention to the litter problem and that positive change, a cleaner environment, will be the result.

December 22, 2012DSC_0937 v3jh copy