Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time at The County of Hawai’i South Hilo Solid Waste Disposal Site, which is usually just called The Dump. I’ve written about The Dump in I Don’t Brake for Mongoose and Badass Pink Chevy .
I never thought about The Dump as having neighborhoods. Back in the fifties, when I was a boy roving The Dump shooting mongoose with my .410 shotgun, the only difference between the long rows of jumbled trash and the vegetation that punctuated them was that mongoose were more likely to be in the trash. But a couple of years ago, when I began moving serious quantities of waste out of the house and yard I inherited from my mother, I learned the The Dump’s neighborhood names: Residential, Metal, Landfill, and Green Waste.
Residential is probably what most Hilo people think is The Dump. They load a few garbage bags in to the back of the Toyota and drive up to the dumpster chutes at Residential, not looking to the left at Metal, and not going on to Green Waste or Landfill. They back up and toss their stuff in, without ever realizing that they’re in a rich and complex ecosystem.
This week I had rusted fencing and old galvanized pipe to get rid of, so I hung a left into Metal. The attendant inspected my load and told me where to drop it.
“You know the road down there to the right? The roofing iron place? Put it over there.”
“Eh, all together in your house is OK, but not here. Gotta throw the toilet at Residential.”
My rusted fencing and pipes are at the bottom of the Metal picture to the left.
Landfill is where the big boys and girls go. Landfill is where the giant garbage trucks and the trucks from construction companies, plumbers, and drywallers go – everybody except the landscapers, who go to Green Waste.
I go to Landfill sometimes, driving up a monster heap of garbage and gravel to where the machines are working, pushing, compacting. A guy motions me where to go and I swing around and back my trailer where he wants it. Then I get out and unload my trash.
It smells bad up on the landfill itself, although some days are better than others. It depends on who’s been dumping just ahead of you, and which way the wind’s blowing. If you get directed to a particularly nasty slot, you find yourself stepping out into a bunch of stuff you would rather not step out into.
My worst Landfill experience was stepping out into a lot of shitty diapers. One of the daycare centers must have dumped before me. With that many you can’t avoid them. It’s not like the diaper you find at the park when you sneak into the bushes to take a piss. That one, you step over or around. But if there’s a couple of dozen, and you have a narrow slot in among the trucks, you have no choice but to walk on them.
If you tell the Landfill monitor guy you don’t like your slot because it’s nasty he looks at you. What did you think was up here, a park? A Japanese garden? No, it’s a landfill, so just unload. If you don’t want to walk on it, get a dumping trailer.
Going to Landfill shows you what’s in a landfill. I think they should take bus loads of students up there – not to dump them, but so they could learn about it firsthand. It worked for me. No amount of television coverage substitutes for driving up a huge mountain and backing the trailer into a slot and getting out onto shitty diapers to pitch out the remains of my father’s shop cabinets, all moldy and with a dessicated centipede in them, some old windows with glass, along with some regular garbage bags I thought I might as well take there directly rather than tossing them in Residential so they could have the grand tour past Green and up the mountain.
The view from the top is really wonderful.
I was going to The Dump one day last year, waiting for the light at the intersection with the Volcano Highway, when I noticed a large group of cyclists waiting to turn left. I sat in my van admiring their beauty – helmets, bright clothing, their bikes.
I used to bike a lot thirty years ago, and have my own brightly-colored cycling clothing, though the jerseys are a little tight. They must have shrunk. My bike is a semi-antique, like me. It’s built on a Pogliaghi frame, hand-made by the old master Sante Pogliaghi in Italy. Back in the eighties, I used to race it.
As I crossed the Volcano Highway I realized I was envying the riders because they were out on their fine machines and I was hauling yard waste to Green, my yellow Pogliaghi was thousands of miles away, and my jerseys didn’t fit me anymore.
At Green I found the usual weekend confusion. The Green mound spreads over a couple of acres, and it’s sometimes thirty feet high. On weekends there can be dozens of vehicles unloading.
Not everybody towing a trailer is good at backing it up, so sometimes there are trailers jacknifed, pointing every which way. A guy drives a huge front end loader around and around the mound at high speed, scooping up what people have dumped, and piling it on top.
I like the way Green smells. It can be sweet, but with an edge, the way rain forest coffee and cocoa fermentaries smell. That’s a working smell, an organic-things-are-happening-here smell.
At Green there’s a “No Scavenging” sign, which you might think unnecessary. But it’s not. There’s always something worth having – a plant you could use in your yard, or piles of fruit fallen from somebody’s tree. Beautiful flowers. Edible orchids. Green coconuts. I had my machete with me once and was tempted to open one and get a drink, the way the Bougainvilleans taught me. I don’t think I’d pick up an edible orchid at Green and eat it, but I’d drink a coconut any day.
I finished tossing out my green waste, and when I turned back towards the road, there were the cyclists. It was a wonderful sight. In the foreground, dark mud scattered with spilled green waste – a coconut frond, some taro leaves, an entire Podocarpus that must have rolled off a flatbed but hadn’t been seen by the front end loader guy yet, and some hibiscus bushes with beautiful yellow flowers. In the background, mighty Landfill with the county dozer crawling around on it, black diesel exhaust puffing against what was an unusually blue sky.
And in the foreground, the vivid cyclists milled around. A couple of them dismounted. No one seemed in charge.
I stood beside my trailer and looked at them and couldn’t think what to do. Were they tourists? Growing up in Hilo, I’d learned to be ambivalent about tourists. It’s good to have their money, but it’s not good to have them look at you like you’re something in a zoo. So the Hilo boy in me was already having fun thinking about how they’d get lost in The Dump’s backwoods.
Or maybe they were just local folks going for a ride? The biker in me wanted to walk over and ask if they were lost, and if they were, to direct them to wherever they were going. They wanted to ride, not stand around getting mud in their cleatless cycling shoes. I could load their bikes in my trailer and haul them out of The Dump so they wouldn’t have to risk their tires and clothing and their paint jobs and exotic components. Who wants rotten papaya in her carbon-fiber rear derailleur?
But I was confused and wasn’t sure how to approach them. Should I tell them I was a biker too, in case they thought I was just an old guy who tooled around the neighborhood on a rusted Huffy? But what the hell would that have to do with anything? If I was going to help them, it wouldn’t matter whether I’d never been on a bike in my life or if I was Eddie Merckx. And if I wasn’t going to help them, the same.
Before I could make a move, they rode off toward Landfill. I had no business there that day, so I didn’t follow them. I drove home, feeling unsettled and displeased with myself.
This year, again, I’ve been doing a lot of green waste hauling. Last week ago I felled a line of trash trees, got into my bananas, and trimmed my giant rubber tree. I headed for The Dump with the first of many trailerloads. I took my camera, because I didn’t have any shots of the pile at Green.
The front-end loader guy was a young man I hadn’t seen before. After I backed my trailer up to the pile I walked over to ask if I could take some pictures. I waved my camera at him.
“What model Nikon is that?” he said.
“I have a D40. So, what would you like me to do?” he asked. We agreed that the loader and the pile of logs someone had just dumped might be good.
When I was finished I went over and handed my camera up to him so he could check out my super-wide lens and also see what I’d done.
An hour later I was back with my next load. He walked over with a photography magazine, to talk prices. Where had I gotten the D300, and for how much? He told me his dream was to open a photographic studio in the Philippines.
Driving home I could only shake my head. The Dump’s a beautiful place. I’d gone there to get rid of yard waste, but I’d found a guy to talk about cameras and photography with.
By the time I made my final trip of the day, I was tired. Rubber tree limbs are heavy. I was pulling them out the back at the pace I could maintain, but it must have looked slow to the guy unloading his pickup next to me, because he walked over and said “I’ll help you out with that.”
My first impulse was to tell him I didn’t need any help. Did I look like a weak old fart? I could unload my own trailer! But that was Mainland thinking, and it lasted only a second. And he hadn’t asked me, either. He just declared he’d help, and got right to it without waiting for me to say anything.
In Hawai’i you help people out, if you can, and that also means you accept help, if it’s offered. It’s simple reciprocity. Too long on the Mainland, I’d almost forgotten that.
Afterward, I was kneeling down photographing a beautiful mass of Areca nuts that had spilled down from the pile. My new friend came down from his loader to see what I was shooting. I told him I wasn’t going to bring another load because I was tired and sore, and that I’d been glad for the pickup truck guy’s help. I almost said that I’d helped other people unload, too. But I caught myself before I did.
He looked approvingly at where I’d heaved out my trailer load, although in truth with his machine it couldn’t have mattered where I’d put it.
“You know how to back your trailer,” he said, “not like most people who come here.”
“It’s like riding a bicycle,” I found myself saying, “once you learn, you don’t forget.”