The Beauty that Astounds us and the Trash that Surrounds us

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The fierce gusts of wind pounded the windows and the branches of the trees out front, waking me before my alarm. It made no matter, I woke up with a hunger to climb mountains, so that is what I would do. I quickly fed the dogs, filled my water bottles, and threw into my backpack some extra layers I might need to battle the wind as I ascended above tree line. The spring rains had poured heavily here in Pucón for nearly 5 days in a row, and the prospect of a clear day was even more invitation to get outside and play. I grabbed my snowboard, boots and backcountry gear and headed for the volcano, hopeful that the rain in the valley had meant snow up top.

As I parked at the base of volcán Villarrica, the area was quiet. The once bustling ski resort had shut down after the eruption of the volcano earlier this year. One other car had arrived only moments before me, and the driver proceeded to get out and beckon "buenos dias" as he pulled his skis from the back. After calling over similar hellos, I quickly switched my boots, strapped my board to my backpack and locked the car. I was eager for a bit of solo time in a wild place; and although I do love company on my outdoor adventures, there are some days you just want to get muscling up the mountain with no conversation or distractions.

The snowpack had significantly diminished since I had been up there two weeks earlier- another telling sign that winter was slipping through my fingertips and fading quickly into spring. This winter had been absolutely delicious and I was not feeling quite ready to let it go, so I was savoring every last bit of it that I could. Despite the icy coating atop the trail, I still relished in gratitude for having a clear blue sky above me and a steep smokey volcano before me. Today was going to be a beautiful day and I was ready to embrace it, no matter what the snow conditions were like.

The sun shone brightly, and as I hiked through a gully off trail and slowly made my way up above tree line, the trail softened as the sun warmed the icy crust. The base was still firm, luckily for me since I didn't have snow shoes or a split board. The strong winds of the early morning had surprisingly died down, and the air was calm instead. As I climbed higher and higher I occasionally stopped to catch my breath and rest the screaming muscles in my legs. Each time I would turn and gasp at the incredible beauty of the lakes, mountains and Volcan Llaima that sat quietly behind me. To call this place magic feels insufficient, the beauty is expansive and tugs at you with a childlike wonder.

As I pushed on I finally reached the highest point on the developed side of the volcano, where the final chairlifts, had they been running, would drop you. I pulled off my pack and sat in the snow, reapplying a healthy dose of sunscreen and chowed down on a hunk of parmesan cheese and an apple. As I sat enjoying the view, I watched four skiers skin up the trail I had just broken, steadily gaining elevation with the smooth pace that their skis allowed. As they came upon me I heard them speaking English and recognized their American accents. I greeted them with hellos this time, remarking on the gorgeous day. We chatted for a bit, swapping thoughts on the weather of the day and the condition of the snow further up. As I gave my legs a rest they continued on, the crater their ultimate destination.

Personally, I didn't have such lofty (or currently illegal ;) ) aims. For me, today was about little moments of silence on the volcano, appreciating the warmth of the sunshine, the softness of the wind, and finding a smooth line with promise of perma-grin. Already the day felt like a success as I discovered the perfect bowl to carve a fresh line in.

I pulled my board from my backpack, stepped into the bindings and dropped into the soft, untouched powdery bowl- cue the perma-grin. At one point I may have let loose a giggle of glee as I carved wide turns and basked in the warm sunshine. Even as the terrain began to level out I was able to maintain speed and coasted my way back toward the base. As I rounded the last bend I stopped abruptly, spotting a bright silver and orange candy wrapper in the woods to my left. I stepped out of my bindings, pulled a trash bag from my backpack and proceeded up the gully to retrieve the trash.

Aside from the invigorating experience of hiking up the volcano in the sunshine, and the subsequent perma-grin from the soft descent, I had come out today with one other intention- to gather every piece of trash that I saw along the way. I spent the next 45 minutes pulling various items of trash from the forests that lined the slopes, some of it was even buried, so I dug it up. And I intend to keep digging.

Regardless of where I am exploring or what activity I am participating in, if I am outside I always make an effort to leave a place better than I find it- and that usually means packing out garbage left by others. I don't do this for a pat on the back, or any congratulations or recognition. I do this out of respect; respect for the earth and the wild places that I have the privilege of experiencing.

The spring rains are in full force here in southern Chile, and as a result it is easy to come up with excuses to stay inside and wait for the next clear day to have an adventure. Well, I don't want to waste these days, I don't want to let them pass me by while I live in such a stunning and fantastic corner of the world. Therefore, I have committed to get outside every single day in October. Regardless of the weather, regardless of the "to do" list or the deadlines, I am going to carve out time to spend in the mountains, forests, lakes, rivers or ocean at least once a day. And, while I'm out there, as usual, I'll be collecting any trash I see along the trail. The difference is, instead of only posting amazing photos of the beautiful places I am exploring, I'll be dumping the trash bags I fill up and sharing images of the stuff I pull out of the backcountry (don't worry, I then sort it and haul it to be recycled or thrown away with my garbage).

Every day in October I will post an image of the stunningly beautiful place I explored that day, and beside it I will also post an image of the trash that resides there (well, the trash that resided there). In some cases I will carry out every item that I see, in others, due to the sheer volume of garbage, I will have to leave much of it behind.

My intention with this project is to move beyond the typical "don't litter" discourse, and instead to begin a conversation, both locally and globally, about what we consume, why and how we consume it, and what happens to it when we are "finished" with it (including all that packaging it comes in). This is my small effort to raise our collective consciousness (myself included) about the impact of the things we choose to consume, and our responsibility to raise our voices and demand an alternative. It's not just about packing out the trash and stopping our habits of littering (although this is an important first step); it is about changing the way we consume products and demanding better, closed-loop systems that give us more environmentally responsible choices.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. If you are getting outside this October to enjoy the fall foliage in the Northern Hemisphere, or the spring wild flowers in the Southern Hemisphere, I invite you to join me in sharing what you collect and carry out. Post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or whatever social media you prefer and tag it #litterati and #thereisnoawaytothrowto.

Or, just share the photo with your family, friends, and/or local community- whatever you choose to do, start the conversation, help me raise our collective consciousness, and let's push for a better, cleaner economy that supports thriving ecosystems. If you would like to follow along with my journey, you can see the visual story here (updated daily):

You can also follow my daily posts on Instagram @wanderwithgreta:

While it would be awesome to have you follow along, it would be even more fantastic to have you join me.

Let's all celebrate a beautiful October outside in wild places and leave those wild places better than we find them!

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