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Cascade Observations: What we leave behind

In 1979 author and illustrator David Macaulay produced an extremely clever book called “Motel of the Mysteries.” The publication of the book followed the Tutankhamen exhibit that toured the USA from 1976-79. The premise of the book was ingenious — archaeologists from the future uncover a strange complex of buildings of unknown origin. In their dig, they find a sign that says “The Toot ‘N’ C’mon” motel. Their close observations lead them to the theory that a motel must be some sort of a sacred temple. They puzzle over the meanings of the numbered doors, sacred necklaces, paper scrolls with triangular points, T.V. remotes, drain stoppers, and more. The archaeologists’ assumptions about the motel’s contents can be hilariously incorrect or often absolutely accurate, particularly their conclusions about each room’s large television, which they surmise are sacred altars that ancient humans sat in front of and worshiped with devotion.

We haven’t been able to worship at the feet of our television for weeks due to technical difficulties. It’s been good for me. Instead of being a couch potato, I’m up and walking every evening. My favorite walk takes me down to Hood River’s Waterfront Park, where I’ve encountered a plethora of human artifacts left behind — wet socks, single shoes, t-shirts and voluminous amounts of small plastic bags, usually blue, green or purple in color, filled with something brown in color. Discarded property of the homo sapiens known as “proprietas caninus” or dog owners.

There are garbage cans all around the park, but the one that many dog owners seem to use the most has been absurdly placed behind the tall chain-link fence that protects the seeded grass in the open lawn area. These dog owners must be practicing their free-throw shots, because a large quantity of full poop bags have been lobbed over the fence, and now rest all around the cordoned off garbage can.

I guess the bags of poop are an improvement over the piles of poop our four-legged friends used to leave behind on lawns and sidewalks. Still, am I alone in wondering what becomes of the multitudes of filled bags? Does poop compost in an anaerobic environment? What will these bags look like in 200 years? Will the contents be soft? Petrified? Converted to dust? Home to a new species?

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I grew up around dogs. My mother bred and showed beagles. Over the years, her kennel ranged in size from 2-20 dogs. I spent many weekends at dog shows, surrounded by hundreds of dogs of all shapes and sizes. As a young girl I learned how to walk 3-4 dogs at a time on leashes without ending up in a tangled mess. In high school, I was a semi-professional “Pooper Scooper.” My mother’s barking brood generated a lot of waste, and when she was out-of-town on business, I was pressed into service as head scooper. It’s not something I usually list in my resume.

Most dog owners, like most of man and womankind, are responsible, respectful humans. Many dog lovers, though, assume that everyone must love their dogs as much as they do. At Waterfront Park this can be a problem. Dogs run around, unleashed, bounding up to toddlers and old people alike. Two weeks ago, a river-soaked dog raced up to me, soaked me with dirty water, and then proceeded to take my forearm in its jaw.

Thank goodness for the heavy denim shirt I was wearing, or I feel fairly certain I would have had teeth marks in my skin. I’m guessing its owner thought the dog’s antics were cute; I found them to be annoying at best and threatening at worst.

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The next day I returned to the park for another evening walk. I had not noticed before that there are signs posted all over the waterfront informing the public that dogs MUST be on a leash at all times, and must not be allowed on the beach. So, as a former dog owner, and avowed dog lover, I implore dog owners to be responsible and leash your dogs when at any public park or along local trails such as the Old Highway or the Indian Creek Trail. And try to aim the little bags of brown treasure into the garbage cans, not outside of them.

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On a somber note, I have been thinking a lot lately about what we leave behind on a daily basis, and when we are gone forever. I try to live lightly on the earth, but every day I generate waste, from the cherry stones I pitted yesterday to the piles of Styrofoam surrounding my new printer. Aside from the “stuff “ we accumulate, I’ve been thinking of the legacies we leave behind.

Salvador Castañeda Gonzalez, who passed away on June 28, left behind his young daughter. Maria, one of my students, spent many hours in tears this spring, knowing that cancer would likely take her father away soon. He left behind a lovely girl, a child who epitomizes the values we honor at school: responsibility, respectfulness, kindness and safety.

My neighbor, Scott, left his home for the last time on Sunday, June 29. In his passing, he leaves behind children, grandchildren, and a devoted wife. But he also leaves us with the legacy of what it means to be civic-minded. He was a symbol of dedicated volunteerism, and Hood River is better for his contributions.



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