The very first light of day pours in my window this morning, warming the back of my hand. After a tease of warm spring air, we've been given a dose of the harsh truth about our springs: often they are exactly like winter. Small birds are jumping in the dusty snow wondering what happened.
I recently found an old photograph of myself as a kid, back in the '50s. I was with two of my kid brothers, and it was summertime. We were camping with my parents and grandparents at Fish Creek campgrounds. The day the picture was taken, we were out for a drive. We'd spied some deer by the side of the road, and my dad pulled over to take a picture. My mom had some stale bread we were going to feed some ducks with, but we wanted to feed the deer instead. So she gave us each some bread, and stood back while we tried to figure out how to feed Bambi and his mother and friends.
Feeding deer by hand
I can still remember how loud my heart was beating. How hard it was to stay still and quiet so the deer would approach me. I was sure I could do it, but my ruffian brothers I doubted completely. I had no idea how accustomed to humans these creatures were. They were wild and beautiful to me, and the gentleness on their faces almost made me cry.
My mom said, "Hold your hand out flat; let them take it from you like we do with the horses." My family was quite familiar and comfortable with both horses and cows, the wildest animals suburban Buffalonians ever got to see outside of the zoo. So I did just as I was told, and a deer nuzzled my open hand, taking the bread crusts and leaving me in love. We fed the deer some cereal, too, and some carrots, if I remember correctly. I do remember my brother saying he was not going to give the deer his candy.
We knew nothing about deer diet; we knew only that we made contact with wildness, which differs from wilderness because of how personal that one-on-one contact with that animal felt. The photo was taken as I reached my hand out for the deer's mouth to reach. My brothers stood off to the side.
Camping back in the day
While on these camping trips, when we slept in our heavy-duty canvas tents at the campsite, often we would hear owls hooting at night. We'd hear the shuffling of raccoons looking for food, and the skittering of nightlife near the tent site would keep our eyes open wide long into the night. We loved coming to the Adirondacks and getting a feel for what the wild natural world was actually like. I remember thinking that it was too bad people couldn't actually live here, since I knew tents didn't hold up in the winter when it snowed.
Sure, we drove through towns to get to Fish Creek. We even got groceries in Tupper Lake, so I knew there were stores and shops and houses with garages and fire stations, but there were no shopping centers (that was just before the advent of malls) and that, I felt at the time, was a big negative. Plus all this beauty was so far away from home, from everything I knew in the world, I never gave a thought to living here when I was 7 years old. I just wished that all that wildness was accessible to me in my own neighborhood, where they were building hundreds of houses and cutting down trees everywhere.
Things were different in the '50s
I remember the '50s in part due to the camping trips and having my parents do something together in the summertime. I remember that they always got us up really early, and let us stay in our pajamas in the car for the hours from 3 a.m. until 7 a.m. as they drove the eight plus hours to get up here. That's four or five little kids in a car with their pillows and blankets and all the camping equipment piled on top, coolers and clothes stacked in the trunk. Both of my parents smoked cigarettes as well. My brothers and I didn't know any different. Any long trips with the family enabled us all to "enjoy" the nicotine from those unfiltered Chesterfields for hours on end.
My dad also littered when he drove. He'd toss his cigarette butts out the window. He'd toss empty cigarette packs out the window, too. He was not a bad person, but he thought people were paid to clean up the trash, so he might as well give them something to do. It was a different time back then. By the time he was 50 years old, however, my dad was a part of a volunteer group that picked up trash by the side of the roads in urban Fort Myers, Florida. He had learned his lesson, and made sure we all knew it.
Picking up the trash
That said, the time around Earth Day is when we all should be thinking about trying to help keep our roads and highways clean. There are still idiots out there who throw trash out their car windows. In this day and age, they should know better. They should be more responsible and less cavalier. But since they are not, and we are stuck looking at their trash, this week we should all take a walk with a garbage bag and help Mother Nature out. Pick up bottles, cans, and discarded coffee cups and worm boxes. Let us be the teachers and the volunteers. Let's help keep the wilderness wild for the next generation.
We might have learned that deer do not need to be fed. We might have learned that throwing trash out the car window is uncool. We even might have learned that people can and do live up here year round, just not in their tents. But there is something remarkable about being so close to wild things that you can see their eyes and whiskers, something that makes our lives incredibly rare and beautiful . so let's pick up a little roadside trash to let that beauty shine. Happy Earth Day to all my fellow Adirondackers!
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.