Posts Tagged ‘vuilnis

10
Apr
09

Preserve, Times Two

April 6, 2009, De Bovenmolen, Kijfhoek, the Netherlands

Garbage under the Grass at the Bovenmolen

Garbage under the Grass at the Bovenmolen

When I was a kid, there was a house in the copse of poplars to the right. The people who lived there, a family of vegetable growers, were so withdrawn from the usual affairs of the village that a weird aura hung over the farm. Kids made up stories to explain their otherworldliness. They hid a raving madman in the attic or something like that.

It might not have been quite so extreme, but for sure this family was unusual. On a tour of the village dumpsites, the former alderman of public works told me that he visited these people in the early 1960s with an offer to connect them to water, sewer, and electric services for a reduced price. They declined. They collected rain water, threw their own waste on the dung heap, and lit their house with oil lamps. That was good enough for them. They did without electrical appliances, power tools, radio. Perhaps they used coal for heating and cooking or perhaps—to free themselves from the prying eyes of the coal delivery man—they occasionally chopped down a tree to feed a potbellied stove. Such simplicity may be fine for a monk, but for a tomato grower it is definitely unexpected.

When the people still lived there, simplicity and all, a little bridge spanned the river Devel where there is now an unbroken collar of reeds. And this side of the reeds, under the spring green grass, was another local garbage dump site, active from 1965 or so. The lion’s share of the village garbage went to Zwijndrecht and later to an incinerator in Rotterdam, but anything that was not picked up in regular rounds (because it didn’t fit in the garbage can, for instance) was dumped here.

The dump is a little higher than the surrounding land. A metal plate in the grass gives access, according to my alderman, to sampling equipment in the ground that makes it possible to monitor the latter-day activities of my leftovers. But this dump  is not on any of the registers of monitored sites that I can find. Neither the national nor the provincial authorities have the Bovenmolen on any of their lists.

Despite the fact that it has been enriched with garbage, the area is being returned to Mother Nature, more or less. The house has been removed. You can’t cross the river to get into that copse unless you have a boat. If you look in the right direction, you don’t see the high-speed rail line which starts its descent into the underworld here to cross under the river Oude Maas nearby. The preserve is being reforested, after having been bare of trees except for windbreaks around farms for 600 or 700 years. It’s a modest effort and apparently progress has been halted, for now, by action groups who don’t agree with protocols.

On the whole, however, the entire scene speaks to a very different spirit from the way of things some 40 or 50 years ago. I’m almost inclined to grow cautiously optimistic.

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09
Apr
09

Zwijndrecht

April 7, 2009, Lindtsedijk, Zwijndrecht, the Netherlands

Zwijndrecht's Garbage Plateau

Zwijndrecht's Garbage Plateau

In the background, just behind this peaceful meadow, lies a gigantic garbage plateau, containing my garbage from the years 1965 through 1967. My village got tired of managing its own garbage dump, so it paid the nearby community of Zwijndrecht to take care of it instead. Zwijndrecht was bigger, and it took a more professional approach to its leftovers. After a while, the town started a composting operation, so some portion of my trash ended up on the fields instead of under them.

When I looked at the map, I marveled how I could have grown up here and never noticed the dump. I used to come by here on Sunday bikerides, on the way to the pedestrian ferry across the Oude Maas to Puttershoek. The road down to the ferry landing runs right along the foot of the dump. You’d think it would be impossible to miss. But no, I never saw it. Nobody else in my family ever saw it either. It’s like it wasn’t there.

Zwijndrecht dump, along the Oude Maas

Zwijndrecht dump, along the Oude Maas

Now that I’ve walked around the entire thing as far as I could, it’s a little easier to understand how we managed to overlook it. On the side of the river, you walk right along the edge of the dump, which sticks up a few meters above the dike. It’s weedy and unkempt. A few pheasants scuttle about in the tall grass. A sign says that tresspassers endanger their lives in the quicksand. I’m not about to test that assertion, but I’m not entirely convinced. Quicksand? Sounds like the boogeyman to me.

Anyhow, as a feature in the landscape, it’s a complete bore—the kind of thing you just don’t look at. Which makes for a very clever disguise, like hiding something in plain sight.

How deep down the garbage goes, I have no idea. The horses are some 7 or 8 meters below the surface of the plateau, I would guess. Dumps were often started to fill up a hole, so the trash likely reaches below the level of their hooves. It’s a pretty impressive pile, and still it doesn’t look like anything.

07
Apr
09

Buitenland’s Garbage

April 7, 2009, Polder Het Buitenland, Heerjansdam, the Netherlands.

Garbage in het Buitenland

Garbage in het Buitenland

The garbage I created from 1960 through 1964 lies to the right of this little road, just past the greenhouse at the foot of the dike.

There’s a small possibility that the trash was collected with a horse and cart and then taken here, where it was used to fill up some holes in the land. The holes, in turn, were dug for material to elevate the main dike that guarded the village and other communities along the Oude Maas river against winter storms and spring flooding.

It makes for a sort of communal metabolism, a ceaseless rearrangement of materials for basic life support. I’m guessing this was the way things worked since the 1300s, when the dikes were originally built.  They needed to be repaired every year, and they were intermittently elevated. How else would the villagers have managed to maintain their foothold in a fairly marginal corner of the planet?

Today you can’t see that there’s anything untoward under the grass. In fact, I would never have found it without the help of the former alderman who was in charge of public works in the 1960s.

Even if garbage dumping was a time-honored practice and even if nobody worried, yet, about groundwater contamination, it was a pain to maintain a dump like this one. Lighter items blew away in the wind. A plague of rats found their own subsistence in the edible portions. Fires were a regular occurrence, requiring the attentions of the volunteer fire department. In 1965, the dump became enough of a headache that the town council closed it, sending the trash to a neighboring community that maintained a larger and more professionally run landfill.

It’s now unthinkable, with all the poisons in our trash, but at a time when hearth ash was the main ingredient in household waste, it wasn’t even such a horrible environmental disaster. This dump is on the register of waste sites that are monitored by the provincial authorities, and so far it has passed muster.

On the banks of the Devel

On the banks of the Devel

Indeed, when I visit again, under the kindly light of a setting sun, the place seems impossibly bucolic. Ancient chestnuts on the banks of the Devel are just unfolding their leaves. Herons are fishing in the ditches. Swans have built a nest in a field that belongs to a small herd of curious sheep and their lambs. The female sits peacefully on a straw bed, while the father-to-be keeps the sheep at bay, padding around awkwardly in the grass on leathery grey feet, occasionally flapping his gigantic wings in a fearsome show of strength.  The grass is greener here, literally, than on the other side of the mountain.

Certainly, it’s a far cry from the towering landfills that we have built in the landscape since that time.




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