How would we behave differently if we believed that every place was sacred – if not to us, then to someone?
I have a special relationship with Theodore Roosevelt Island. It’s my “home” park, here in the urban hinterland. It’s sad that to get to a place where plants and wildlife are left relatively to their own devices and there are more than a handful of trees, I have to get in the car, but it’s the nature of my situation. TRI is deeply important to me as a place where I can go to breathe a little easier, nourish my soul with the rhythms of the Wheel of the Year playing out more exuberantly, and get in touch with the spirits of my landbase and watershed.
There’s nothing quite like it, walking around the trails, deeper into the woods to the very shore of the river where the rocks thrust up through the thin skin of the land to create a natural henge, feeling myself connect to the place and begin to ground and center in a much stronger way…only to be met with a cheerfully purple little plastic bag of dog poop.
On my last two visits to the island, over the space of just a few days, I have picked up no fewer than twelve bags of dog poop.
I used to think these were just accidents, that maybe an owner busy jogging with an active pet simply didn’t notice when the baggie slipped from her grip. But no: many of these are deliberately placed. Several were under the sign that greets visitors when they come onto the island. One had cute little pawprints printed on the bag in case I was confused about the source of the spoor. Others had been left by the end of the railings on the footbridge, which leads back to the parking lot and trash bins.
Two more were neatly bagged, tied, and placed prominently atop a fallen log directly beside the path, and there was the one in the midst of my little out-of-the-way spot. There’s no way these are accidents.
Think about that: on at least a dozen occasions, a dog owner deliberately decided that “picking up after their pet” meant merely containing the poop in a plastic bag and then leaving that bag there for someone else to clean up. They clearly thought ahead enough to bring bags, but not enough to plan to take those bags to a trash bin.
Do they think there’s a magical Poop Fairy who cleans up after them? Apparently so, and I’m getting damn tired of filling the role.
I realize that for most people, especially dog owners, TRI isn’t a sacred space. It’s just a convenient place for a good run and a chance to let their dogs experience something other than concrete and manicured grass. I get that, I really do. But even if that’s all it is, wouldn’t simple decency indicate that others ought to be able to enjoy it without having to literally clean up your shit? Apparently not.
This is something between a rant and a plea. It’s also a lesson I’m trying to take to heart. I believe, as the poet wrote, that there are no unsacred places. I know, though, that some places are more sacred than others to me. This is reminding me that although I may not see a certain place as sacred to me, it might be – probably is! – a sacred space to someone else. That’s a humbling idea, and one worth learning, so I’m trying to be grateful. But it’s hard, because I don’t want to be the Poop Fairy.
Now how do I go about communicating that to the dog owners who visit TRI?