It was a somewhat eventful weekend at my local trail running haunt. Much more than I let on with Sunday’s post about my long run.
The big news, which came down Friday, was that some hikers on the far north end of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness found a human skull. Yep. That happened.
The reports I’ve seen have said that so far, the skull is all that has been found. They’re narrowing in on an identity, and they haven’t yet seen any signs of foul play. They also say that the remains have probably been there for a couple of years, which might explain why no other bones have been found yet. There are a lot of critters in those woods, so there’s a pretty good chance that the rest of the deceased is scattered all over the place.
I’ve written enough crime stories to know that what probably happened is that the person involved here was a homeless person who likely died from pre-existing health problems, maybe a drug overdose, or from exposure. There is a good possibility that it could be a combination of all three.
Last year, during a cleanup day at Turkey Mountain, a group of us cleared out a one-tent homeless camp. Folks aren’t allowed to camp there, but people do, and there is new evidence of more camps on the north end of the park. That north end is pretty close to Interstate 44 and is easily accessed on foot from a nearby Pepsi bottling plant parking lot.
So that’s one of the potential hazards of having an open wild space inside a city. Not everyone there is hanging out just to get a run, hike of bike ride in.
Needless to say, that was the biggest news out of Turkey Mountain in quite some time. But later that weekend, a more mundane subject came front-and-center: Litter.
A group of us got together to do a trash cleanup day. As the weather has warmed, the volume of garbage has increased, much to my dismay. Plenty of people walk in with water bottles, sports drinks, soft drinks and beer. And apparently, a good portion of them feel OK with leaving their empties in the woods, not far from the trails.
This bothers me, mostly because the bulk of us go to Turkey Mountain to be in a natural setting. Other people’s trash degrades that experience and pollutes the woods.
But there were a couple of finds that disturbed me even more.
First, a discarded Gu packet. Most of you know that Gu is a nutrition product used by endurance athletes to pop in some quick calories and energy while on a run or ride. It’s not something your average person eats as a snack.
I can somewhat understand a lapse of judgment from a newbie dayhiker who carelessly discards some trash. But a regular trail runner or mountain biker, who I assume would appreciate Turkey Mountain’s wild nature, leaving behind an empty Gu packet? Someone needs a good smack upside the head.
Then later on, we found a Whataburger cup thrown into the weeds within 100 yards of the trailhead parking lot, and in plain sight of a garbage can. As much as the Gu packet earned my ire, this particular find got to me.
How lazy is this? Whether this person was 100 yards into their walk, or 100 yards from finishing it, would it really have been such a bad thing to hang on to that empty 44-ouncer for just a few seconds longer and deposit its Styrofoam goodness in the trash? I’m not kidding when I say I’d like to punch that person. Hard.
Looking at the topics at hand – the human remains, the homeless camps, the litter – you’d be hard-pressed to link them all together. Urban homelessness and littering are not related.
But what these things point toward are the burdens that come with maintaining urban wild spaces.
The discovery of the skull sheds light on Tulsa’s homeless, which in turn would, I hope, gets people thinking about how to better help the displaced. Some people will want to stay outside, sleep under bridges or camp in the woods rather than seek help. But I’m sure the person who died at Turkey Mountain did not envision her life ending that way (investigators think this was a woman). Most homeless people would rather not be homeless.
An urban wilderness is no place for people to live. But I can see, given the lack of other decent options, where someone might just want to pitch a tent in a quiet part of the woods and be left alone. Perhaps this might get a few people thinking about who the homeless actually are (long-term jobless, mentally ill, recent war veterans, just to name a few) instead of treating them as out-of-sight, out-of-mind, or worse, as some weird, lazy 1930s-era hobo caricature.
As for the litter, it again goes back to what it means to keeping a slice of the wild within a city. It’s hard work. Just the sheer number of people living around Turkey Mountain, as well as the numbers of people who visit it, mean that there is going to be a few maladies that come when human beings interact with nature. In this respect, people need to be taught – and the earlier in life, the better – that trashing natural places is morally wrong.
In summary, the two lessons from the weekend’s events are 1) it looks like we need to find ways to treat people better, and 2) we need to find ways to treat the land better. Maybe then I won’t find empty Bud Light cans in the grass, and hopefully, no one’s bones in the weeds.