The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Monday, 29 November 2021 11:12

The beauty of convenience and other observations

Written by Onate Cittlali, Keenan Thomas, Ashlyn Smith
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UTK students wax eloquent on the environmental issues that confront us every day

University of Tennessee journalism professor Mark Littmann asks students in his environmental writing class every semester to write short sketches about environmental issues they may witness during any given day. Such an assignment requires an almost poetical approach.

We published one such UTK environmental writing sketch last spring, the infamous story of the orphaned mayonnaise jar of Fort Sanders, and Hellbender Press decided to go with three this fall, because they are that good.

The disposable containers

It is Friday afternoon and the mother of three is at the grocery self-checkout buying her family’s food for the week. Her squeaky, gray shopping cart is domed with 12-packs of Coke, single-serve yogurt, single-packaged snacks, and the typical food staples that her children beg her for. She likes purchasing the individually packed snacks because they fit perfectly in the paper bag school lunches that she gives to her kids every day. That is the beauty of convenience.

Double bag the milk. The eggs and sliced bread get their own bag. Frozen foods are to be separated. She continues to place her cardboard-boxed foods in the plastic bags handily provided to her. The mother pays for her food and crumples her receipt.

When she gets home, she piles her grocery bags on her kitchen island. Carefully taking out each item she bought, she throws the plastic bags on the side counter out of her way. What is she supposed to do with these?

Her kids rush indoors as they get dropped off from school, ready for the weekend. They raid the fridge and each cracks open a chilled can of Coke. It is their favorite drink while they watch the afternoon cartoons. The half-empty cans sit on the coffee table for days before they are emptied.

The mother wonders why her trash bins fill up before the garbage men come each week. She thinks maybe she should start looking into buying Tupperware that will help with that, but washing dishes seems like such a hassle for a mother of three.

That is the beauty of convenience.

-Onate Cittlali

Semi-conscious environmental awareness

The student jumps into the shower while brushing his teeth to conserve water. After completing his morning routine, the student drives 15 minutes downtown with a full tank of gas.

He parks his car in a designated spot. Before class, he makes a stop at a vending machine, grabbing his third soda for the week and swearing it’s his last one. He places the empty bottle into the recycling bin because that’s the right thing to do.

Upon completing his classes, the student rushes to his car. He drives a few minutes to the immediate city outskirts. He parks and enters a pizza kitchen to start his shift.

He dons his apron and sweats next to the constantly operating oven, which only turns off between the kitchen’s closing and opening. The student grabs one of the “92-percent biodegradable” Styrofoam cups to get more soda.

He goes through three cups, along with three pairs of latex-free gloves, during his shift.

As the pizza boxes pile up next to the dumpster, the student heads to his car after work. He drives 20 minutes back to his house, passing a stream of litter on the highway.  “At least I don’t do that,” the student thinks. The needle on the gas gauge begins to sway toward empty.

He gets home and jumps into the shower, brushing his teeth to conserve water.

-Keenan Thomas

An urban habitat

The long yellow school bus screeches to a halt at the top of the little neighborhood street at exactly 6:40 a.m.; the brakes are sensitive to the nippy October morning air.  

Parents hug their little ones goodbye, wishing them a good day at school – and imploring them to eat the apple in their lunchboxes. The smiling driver closes the doors after the last anxious third-grader climbs the steep bus steps.

It’s a bumpy ride, but the warmth of the bus heaters is putting the boy in the seventh row back to sleep. The girl behind him though likes to paint pictures on the fogged window, with giggles spilling from her and her friend.  Several older kids are finishing homework from the night before. The bus is filled with a chorus of whispers and snores, harmonizing with the whirring of the bus engine as it bounces down the road.

There is only one little girl, at the very front of the bus, who does not join in on the muted chaos of the morning. Head propped up against the buzzing window, she stares absently out of it.  

Outside is a forest of fluorescent lamp posts under which a small herd of nursing home residents take shelter to smoke. Little sedans sleep in the dewy grass. An early morning runner bounds out from behind a bush.  

It seems the tallest trees are chimneys producing fluffy clouds in the cold. She turns away from the window, for there is nothing to see. No one has their nose pressed tightly against the damp window, crowding to get a peek at what roams just outside.

They missed the deer by 10 years.

-Ashlyn Smith

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Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2022 16:21
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