My sister and I are picnic fans. I love fresh fruit and tasty treats and a flask of hot chocolate or coffee. I don’t mind the weight of carrying stuff because it always delights me to lay out the picnic blanket and unpack all the delicious delights. Even if we don’t have a picnic planned, my sister and I will often flit through a shop to get some basics. We did this recently and assembled grapes and veggie sticks in wraps as we enjoyed an impromptu picnic at a nearby park. It was a summer evening where the light and warmth balanced sublimely with a gentle breeze to create an idyllic summer evening. We’d chosen a favourite park with lawns that slope steeply down towards the Belfast Lough. Tall trees surround the park and dogs like to think the trees are theirs, all theirs.
We didn’t have our lined picnic blanket so we sat on a bench overlooking the slopes down to the sea. Older kids raced bicycles down the fast descents. Younger ones cried that they couldn’t. Cyclists on the towpath negotiated around toddlers, the elderly and people pushing prams. People threw tennis balls for dogs that rushed after them. Couples strolled. Families ambled with teens with staring into their phones not noticing the beauty around them.
With the scare of Covid-19, we wiped the bench down before settling in for our picnic and that’s when we saw it. Strewn all over the lawns were the remnants of fast-food packaging: cups, straws, containers, bags, it was chaos. Once again, the anxiety of the pandemic evoked a reluctance that comes naturally to me: the desire to clean up. I hesitated and justified that it wasn’t safe to touch the garbage. I noticed people shaking their heads as they side-stepped the litter. I ate my food but the real pleasure of the moment was tainted by the mess. As we were leaving, I turned around and bare-handed started picking up. The more I retrieved, the more carnage I noticed. It was shocking. I’ve been so appalled that humanity’s return to the world after lockdown has been to resume polluting.
My sister joined me. We cleared the park of every last piece of wrapping until it looked pristine again. We got into the car, smothering hand sanitiser— glad that we tidied, disappointed that we hadn’t done it right away and dismayed that it was necessary. A knock at my window startled us both. It was an elderly man dressed in black, wearing a peaky blinder cap. He’d knocked with his walking stick which he held aloft to gesticulate, roll down your window. “I saw what you did,” he said. At first I worried we’d done something wrong. “I watched the whole thing,” he continued. “It was the gulls”. He explained the seagulls had taken rubbish out of the bins in the hope of finding leftover food. I told him I’d been so disheartened that people seemed to have discarded their rubbish. “Oh they do,” he went on to tell us that he is part of a beach clean-up team. That a fast-food giant actually encourages their staff to go and clean up so that society doesn’t accuse them of pollution. He said there is urgency that we instil a sense of community in the youth. I agree and I want to do more to clean up. There are clean up communities in most areas, I hope you will participate in yours. If you are part of one already, please tell me all about it at [email protected] I feature the C.L.E.A.N. U.P. Method in my Enviromindfulness module in my online course: Mindful to Bountiful a Mini Course in Mindfulness. I believe we can and should clean up, “Well I just wanted to thank you,” the old man said and though we don’t clean up to get thanks, I know our planet is grateful.