Make America beautiful again: Country’s landscape littered with clutter

By Norman Knight

We are hiking at Cumberland Mountain State Park in Tennessee. It is a wonderful day washed with sunshine and early spring warm air, a perfect day for being outdoors.

Spring break has broken out here in Cumberland County, and we occasionally encounter groups of temporarily liberated students. Although the sunshine and warm air are part of the draw, they seem to be gathered around the lake mostly to hang out with each other. They are not at the park for the quiet solitude it offers.

Becky and I take a trail that makes a long loop leading us deep into the forest.

As we are walking, our eyes fix on the beauty of the just budding trees while at the same time we focus on where we step. At one point, we notice in the middle of the path a bright yellow something that is clearly out of place. It is a single Goldfish cracker. (Goldfish is made by Pepperidge Farms which has a trademark on the word and owns the shape of the fish. Isn’t that interesting?)

We assume the cracker was dropped by someone who needed nourishment during their trek through the woods. Considering how popular they are especially with young children, it could have slipped out of the wee hand of one of the little kids we saw earlier hiking with Mom and Dad.

Soon we see another trademarked fish, and later, another. We continue on, following the yellow fish road until we finally come upon a crinkled empty package. We pick it up and carry it out of the woods.

I was reminded of the road by our house. As a rule, we use it for driving or running. When you run, you see things in closer detail, and we often find ourselves commenting on the trash that has accumulated along “our” road.

One day we decided to take a walk with some large bags to clean things up a bit. We learned a couple of things from our litter collection project.

First, we filled up our two bags before we had walked one half mile. Now, we live on a dead end, which means we have less traffic than other roads in the area, so it is safe to assume that there is at least as much trash along those roads as ours. That’s a lot of bags to fill.

Second, we found that drink containers seem to be the most common items tossed out of cars. Lots of sports and energy drinks were discarded, but mostly we found beer cans.

Bud Light is apparently the beer of choice for whomever drives down our dead-end road. One theory is that the collection of beer cans is the result of teenagers out joyriding on Saturday night. However, non-teenagers, as well, are suspect after having recently witnessed an adult (?) heaving a beer can over the top of his speeding car.

Ironically, he used a sort of Hudnut Hook. (Remember those anti-littering commercials from the 1970s featuring the Indianapolis Mayor?)

For some reason, litter along the road is something that catches our attention. Maybe it is because both Becky and I worked in public schools where we were constantly picking up casually tossed candy wrappers. Or maybe it is because we grew up with TV promotions such as the Hudnut Hook, Woodsy Owl (”Give a hoot, don’t pollute”) and a tearful Native American admonishing us not to litter.

Those commercials and other anti-pollution efforts coincided with the beginning of the modern environmental movement. The “Crying Indian” public service announcement, in fact, premiered in April 1971, on the first Earth Day.

Passing environmental laws is one thing; changing cultural attitudes is something else again. Change can be a long process.

It’s encouraging to know that during the past 40 years, litter in the U.S. has declined more than 61 percent. Still, about 52 billion pieces of litter clutter the landscape of our beautiful country. Yours and mine. That’s a lot of bags to fill.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to