Marauding Bears All Over Town + The Wisdom of Garbage

“But when nothing is valued for what it is, everything is destined to be wasted.”    ---Wendell Berry

More than a dozen bears are ambling and gobbling their way out of the hearts of Kodiak residents. There’s a couple in my neighborhood too. One was shot and killed while raiding a chicken coop not far from my house.   

Removal of the bear shot while raiding a chicken coop.

We live on an island of more than 4000 Kodiak bears, the highest density of bears in the world. Most of the island is a federal bear refuge (everything in green on the map).

Our high school sports teams are, of course, “The Bears.”  Part of our fishcamp is on Bear Island. We teach our kids what to do when they see a bear (photo) .  We’re on the alert out there for bears swimming over to our fishcamp island. We have guns loaded on gun racks ready for a marauding bear. When we hike we fasten a canister of bear spray to our belts.  

But we’ve not had so many frontyard bears before. The reason? A new garbage system.  Central dumpsters have been replaced, inexplicably, with garbage cans (“rollcarts”)  placed out on the streets, creating an irresistible temptation  
to the bruin population.


Blame is being slung as fast and harsh as hash and hard tack. No one is blaming the bears. Everyone is blaming the garbage; more specifically the ones who voted the new garbage system in.

Into this mess of blame and hash, I feel no need to defend the bear. The bear is himself an overwhelming fact of nature who can defend himself better than most (though not against guns).  Nor can I defend the planners who passed this plan despite vociferous and prophetic objections. 


I offer instead a few words  in the defense of garbage, which cannot defend itself. 

We hate it, of course.  We despise even our own garbage. We lily-wrap it in scented bags (I predict floral garbage bags will be next) that lock, snap and tie like a noose to choke out any possible leakage.  We whip it out our doors, out of sight and smell, as if it carried the bubonic plague. 

But garbage tells the truth about us. It has wisdom to impart. It reminds us that are not independent, self-sustaining creatures.  We must eat, drink, wear clothes, and clean up to stay alive and well.  Our lives, our breath and our body costs other beings, requires other lives and resources.  We cannot not create waste.  Even without wrappers or fast food, the cleanest foods, even water will turn to waste in our bodies. There is always something left over.  Only the dead produce nothing.

But we are wasteful in our waste. We tire of our clothes sooner than they wear out. We chuck our clunky-heeled shoes, no longer in style. We stuff the can with the turquoise coat too gauche for our taste this year. We serve ourselves too much food and throw away the rest. We throw too much away because we buy too much. We buy too much because we don’t know the difference between want and need. 

And even what we throw away other creatures want and need.   

I am not much different than most people.  I’d like to consume less---less of everything, especially plastic (but maybe not shoes and clothes—which I buy a lot of, but mostly used--Phew!)    

Two thousand years ago, when Jesus turned a boy’s sack lunch into a feast for 5,000, despite his ability to produce infinite resources, he threw nothing away. When all had eaten and marveled, he told the disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments. Let nothing be wasted.”  

Those words, both their spiritual and their literal application, are enough for me. “Let nothing be wasted.” Don’t waste pain, or fear or time or strength or resources or any of the gifts you’ve been given. Don’t even waste your waste. 

Reduce it if you can. Don’t refuse so much of your refuse. At the least, let it remind you of the cost of life, what costly creatures we are. 

Knowing this, don’t spend more: value everything you hold for all it’s worth. 

And sometimes, don’t let go.