Lucy the dog and I have gone off the beaten path. We tread through the soft green wisps that have cropped up everywhere on the forest floor like a silk carpet. The lilac, yellow and white flowers that flourish in the shade of the trees in May tickle my ankles to catch my attention. We can marvel at the big peonies and roses of the summer, but these delicate flowers of spring are more graceful and more moving because of their determination to rise up despite all of the odds: the iron nights of spring, the mud of April and May, and people with their dogs who long to trample upon the greenery as soon as it emerges.
Lucy digs furiously at the base of a tree where obviously some poor unsuspecting creature has made its home. While I fully expect that someday something angry is going to bite her nose off, on this occasion I let her take her fate into her own hands – or should I say paws? Amid the delicate flowers and the blades of young grass, my eye strikes a large-sized coffee cup from Pressbyrån (the local kiosk), which someone obviously decided they were done with. A little further on, an empty plastic water bottle lies forelorn on the ground with some used white tissues scattered here and there.
I try to reconstruct the story: A woman walking through the park on a sunny May day sipping a cappuccino receives a call from her fiancée who says he has decided to break off their engagement. She drops her cup on the ground in shock and begins to weep, unconsciously throwing her tissues onto the ground, one after the other. In order to calm herself down, she takes out the plastic water bottle from her hand bag, sits on the bench next to the statue and sips water, unable to organize her thoughts and emotions.
I like to construct these types of stories around garbage I see scattered on the ground in public areas, since I want to believe that my fellow person cares but has simply experienced a momentary lapse of responsibility. I want to believe that there are good reasons as to why people leave garbage scattered amid the delicate flowers. In my heart of hearts I am always hoping.
During the summers I sometimes walk around my island with a black garbage bag picking up the debris that visiting sailboats have left at our shores. I remember sitting on a rock with a black garbage bag that was somewhere between full to brimming, and thinking about what this says about developments in our society. Can people be blamed for feeling that the land isn’t theirs, and that the forests and wild shores aren’t really a part of their reality? People live mostly in big cities which create a considerable degree of separation from the earth and its cycles. We have divided the land between us so that we don’t feel a collective responsibility for it. Here in Scandinavia this attitude is somewhat mitigated by customary laws allowing common access to the land and the seas, but signs of lack of common responsibility are nevertheless everywhere to be seen.
I pick up the debris on the ground so that the forest floor is once again a place where people can dream. Our systems have no doubt helped more of us to survive, but they have also weakened our will to take own responsibility. How we encourage that attitude is probably the greatest challenge to cleaning up our planet.
My new book, Rose in the Sand, a memoir of a decade lived in the Swedish wilderness, will be out shortly. Watch out for it at www.julielindahl.com and join me at Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about my non-profit, Stories for Society, which brings story-telling as a tool for learning and communication into schools. Enjoy my e-magazine at www.nordicwellbeing.com.