It’s early January, and 2018 is still shiny and new and cold, and I pull in 5 miles from Clifden to get a photo of some mounds of gravel that have been piled up by the N59.
I’m hoping to get something that is Connemara but not cliché, something that I can’t visualise, something I’m not even looking for. I’m trying to see in a new way, you know, just another new-year go at giving life a kick up the rump to see if a gear takes. Feels like the clutch has been stuck all the way in, melting and grinding away, for a long stretch.
I snap the mounds, and then wait for a van to pass to record that too, diligent accumulator of slices of reality. The morning was bright but the afternoon is dull, and hovering around 0 Celsius.
On the way back to the car I see a plastic bottle, half submerged in the mossy earth. Here on the bend there is some flat space on each side of the road. On the other side are the mounds of gravel. On this one a marshy shoulder leading into a rising ridge of stone, where a car can’t pull in. But it can certainly roll down a window, bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, and fling out a snot of rubbish, and roll it back up, bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, without skipping a pistonbeat.
The ground and its ecosystems are normally very keen on the discards of the passings of lumbering creatures. It rots them into its bosom, breaks them down, savours any organic compounds to build and rebuild itself. Nothing is wasted, so nothing is waste. A thriving economy of basic materials.
But these materials, these plastics, these metal foils, these quick-bought quick-used quick-discarded spoils, they do not melt back into the ground. They resist, their long chains of compounds too tough and too toxic.
Instead, they slowly sink down into the soil, unusable obstacles to be grown over and around.
Good old polyethylene terephthalate: cooked from the soups of oil sucked/fracked from the guts of the planet.
I walk from the car along the roadside as far as a broken branch from which hangs a fast food meal bag. 100 paces or so.
How much junk would you find along 100 paces or so of the N59, thrown from the windows of passing cars?
I start to look more carefully, to see what I can see. And every time I look, I find more. More cartons and bottles, more fast food wrappers, tins and glass, car parts and coffee cup lids, gloves, clothes hangers, sun cream bottles, a pregnancy test box, and a set of spectacles left balanced on a bottle stuck into the gravel.
These are the marks of our passings.
From a distance, there is nothing here but bog and a ridge cut into the bank, under the loom of the twelve Bens, and the N59 snaking along over Ballynahinch lake.
But up close, if you look, are layers of rottable and unrottable rubbish, flung from our day trips, commutes, visits, and shopping errands. We do not see, when the window buzzes down, that we are not merely silently cleaning out car kingdoms into eager emptiness, but are instead adding to mounds of junk that line our passings. On one hand we might sell to strangers the beauty of the wild and rugged landscape, while the other is tossing wrappers out into it, where it will lie for centuries to come.