This is the story of cleaning the river.
It started when some friends and I went to this beautiful river, to swim and look for a place to clean up on The Yuba River Cleanup Day. We were swimming and having a wonderful time. On the other side of the river we saw what appeared to be a little shack, so we crossed the river and went to the shack using a difficult trail full of trash and poison oak. When I got there I was shocked. I felt was strange. I wasn’t sad or angry but very impressed; it was something I had never seen before. So much trash and useless stuff; heavy metals, broken glass, and batteries spread through the entire place I couldn’t think what it was all for. The amount of work and effort we had to do did not even cross my mind, all we knew was that we needed to rally an army of people to get it done.
So the next day we got on it and prepped for the following weekend. We recruited as many people as we possibly could, got food to feed all those people, made equipment to carry the garbage, got a big dump truck and three pickup trucks to haul the trash away.
The hard work started on Friday, when a few of us went there to set up camp and get everything ready. We started by making trails on both sides of the river, and cleared all the poison oak, because of that my body is covered in it. We set up a raft to make it easy to get stuff from one side of the river to the other. By the end of Friday we had everything ready for the next day. We started early on Saturday, ready to do all we possibly could. Some of us focused on separating the garbage, and getting it to the other side of the river, while others carried stuff for half a mile through a steep and narrow trail to the dump truck.
The river cleanup was supposed to be only one day. Although I had already worked two days, the amount of garbage was so massive, we decided to come back on Sunday. We worked carrying garbage until around four o‘clock – exhausted, we had filled a big dump truck and three pickup trucks.
And in the end I wasn’t angry at the miner, or complaining abut all the work we had done, but felt happy that we had done so much good and gotten so much help. It also made me think that this wasn’t the end. All the work we had done did not compare to the big picture. Where was all this trash going? How much energy and work will it take to recycle these materials? How much does one person need? How much can he accumulate?
By Andres Jaimes Noriega
Sitting, nestled in the rocks was a glass jug full of golden liquid. The jug caught the light and made the translucent fluid sparkle. If you could capture the sun’s rays into liquid form it would be the glistening contents of this jug. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the substance in this jug was not molten sunbeams but pee.
For the past few years I have participated in the Yuba River Cleanup. Our group has focused mainly on clearing out abandoned mining claims on the Middle Yuba. The miners who inhabited these claims had the legal right to bring large amounts of mining equipment to the site. As time passed many miners brought in non-mining related stuff in order to construct a somewhat permanent residence. These camps are full of peculiar objects, ranging from toilets and ovens to bedpans and barrels of batteries. The most outrageous artifact I have found so far was the jug of miner pee.
The moment I realized the true contents of the jug my mind was flooded with questions. The most pertinent of which were, who was this man? And more importantly to me why did he save jugs of pee? Throughout the day I pondered these questions and discussed them thoroughly with the others who helped to clear out the camp. I know a jug of pee shouldn’t occupy the entirety of my thoughts, but it did. To me it was a symbol of all the things we as humans accumulate at the cost of others for little to no purpose. By the end of the day I had come up with several conclusions. Maybe he was crazy or refused to leave his shack to urinate or maybe like me he liked the way his pee shimmered when struck by the sun’s vibrant rays.
I now realize that this man’s reasoning and identity is not as important as I made it out to be. Sure it would be nice to solve the mystery of the miner’s pee but in the grand scheme of things this man’s daily habits are irrelevant. The important part of that day is that we cleared out thousands of pounds of waste, some of which was leaking toxins into the environment. Instead of finding this man and attempting to punish him for the mess he had left behind we joined together as a community and did something about it.
It is easy to fall into an interrogative state just as I did and forget what your real purpose is. It is imperative that we take a step back and look at the big picture. What does it matter why this man had barrels full batteries? What matters is that we work together to dispose of them properly. Many of us are privileged enough to live a life where we have the time and energy to combat these problems, but not nearly enough of us chose to. Until every able body is out there cleaning up the jars of pee left from those before us, we will never make a difference that will stick. It is my dream that one hundred years from now my great grandchildren won’t be on a river cleanup disposing jugs of golden liquid marked 2013.
By Sierra Berry
I search the camp looking for clues to the man who once lived here, completely distracted from the task at hand. Who is he? How did he come to be like this? To be living in one of the most beautiful places, but to trash it instead of tend it. Did he have many friends? Did he live by the river by choice, or was he forced by life circumstance? What’s going wrong with our society that sights like this one are not uncommon? I consider the possibility of mental illness due to over exposure to heavy metals, and any other in a long list of excuses for why he would live like this. Or, is he just another casualty of our broken society? In our “dog eat dog” world, not enough of us are willing to reach out and care for those in need, whether that is our fellow man or our favorite river spot. Our social and ecological problems are reflective of each other, and all we want to do is keep them “out of sight and out of mind”, blame them on someone else so we can feel okay with our lack of action.
For this weekend, we are breaking that cycle. Taking the time to tend to one of our favorite river spots, helping to heal one of the many scars left by mining’s toxic legacy. And, what a joy it was to spend time with friends tending to a place we love, excited to leave something better for future river goers to enjoy. Although it meant two days of carrying heavy loads of rubbish up a narrow, slippery trail, getting bruised, scraped, covered in poison oak and having thousand of flies trying to dive into our eyes and mouth. Nothing can compare to the sense of accomplishment we all felt tying down the last bits of trash and heading on our way.
By Alli Stefancich
Mining for Batteries
So, we participated in the great “Yuba River Cleanup Day”, which for us turned into a cleanup weekend. At first, due to the weather I thought no one was going to show up, but as we were waiting in the van one by one the few people who were truly committed did appear.
We made our way down the narrow rocky road just as the rain stopped. We hiked down the thin path, which had so kindly been cleared of poison oak the day before by part of our own crew and made it to the beautiful middle fork of the Yuba River. We had a raft set up to cross over to the other side. As we hiked up the river bank on the opposite side I started to get this overwhelming feeling of despair and sadness when I saw the towering amount of waste that was left behind in one single mining claim. I’m pretty sure that had I been alone at that very moment I would have been crushed by these feelings and wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. I wonder, it might be possible that this is exactly what happened to the miner who owned this claim and one day he simply abandoned it.
However this wasn’t the case this time, we were many, a small community of people ready, able and willing to clean up this mess. Some people who have cleaned up camps like this one before went straight for the big stuff, like the wood stove, chain saw motors or the generator. I on the other hand started small, digging out batteries from the soil, because to me that was one of the most toxic things there. I was astounded by the amount of batteries one person could accumulate, and that was extremely depressing.
As the day went on those initial feelings slowly washed away and were replaced with motivation.
On the second day, I no longer thought of the mess. My mind was purely focused on loading the raft, getting everything across the river, loading the containers, hiking carefully back up the trail, and loading the trucks. I was pumped!
By the end of day two when we had three pickup trucks full of trash and recycling, and one dump truck full of scrap metal I was left with this great feeling of accomplishment. We made a difference!
By Alicia Ralero