Finding the port key

A few days ago, I was walking a new route through the area with my husband and our dog. We had seen there were fishing lakes nearby and thought we'd go for a longer walk without driving anywhere to see if we could find them.

The path started out decent with meadows on both sides, and I was considering adding the round to my regular rotation. A few minutes later, the path ended and we were on a paved street with low brush on both sides. It wasn't a busy road and we didn't see a single car the entire time. A large meadow was filled with people playing with their dogs. Not my cup of tea but I could still appreciate it for what it was if it hadn't been for the trash everywhere. I pulled an empty bag of chips out of a fence and my husband commented that me taking a few things won't make a difference. He picked up a few things, too, but even together, people would not notice a difference. There was trash everywhere. From everyday items like coffee cups and single-use masks to entire bags of trash, neon light bulbs, and broken furniture. It looked like it was a popular site to drive to to dump what you don't want to pay to get rid of.

We discarded our collected trash in a public bin nearby and kept walking. The scenery changed again and we were walking under power poles next to the Westring, a busy street in the area. A small meadow with a few fruit trees (yummy, apple with a big dose of exhaust fumes) lay on one side of the now muddy path. A small forest area lay on the left, branches stacked high to keep the wildlife away from the road. If I closed my eyes, I could hear the birds singing on the left, just barely audible over the loud roaring of the cars on the right.

The grass around the fruit trees was covered in trash, like everything in the area. Among the items discarded there was an old boot. A portkey, thought the Potterhead inside me. Now, imagine trying to find the portkey.

For those who are not freaks like me who know everything about Harry Potter (well, the original books, that is), portkeys are things that wizards and witches can use to port themselves from one place to another at a pre-arranged time. It's like beaming on a bus schedule. You touch something, it starts glowing, and then you (and the thing) end up where you were supposed to go. To use Mr. Weasley's words:

"Well, they can be anything. Unobtrusive things, obviously, so Muggles [Non-magicians] don't go picking them up and playing with them... stuff they'll just think is litter..."

Was the situation better when Rowling wrote the series? Did she live in an area where there was less trash around? Or did she just assume things were better in the countryside?

Either way, I don't think portkeys would still be an effective means to travel in the modern age. Imagine having to sort through all the items humans throw into nature to find the right "unobtrusive" object, especially as they don't start glowing until it's essentially to late to touch them.

We did make it to the fishing lakes in the end but were sourly disappointed to see that they were perfectly rectangular holes dug by someone and filled with fish. I would not have wanted to have a closer look if there hadn't been a sign that the are was only for members of the fishing club.

We will not be adding the route to the rotation but I know where my next larger cleanup will be.

I would love to tell you that I live in a busy are with lots of people, a city with small parks or something, but I live in a small village with just above 2,000 residents. Some of the people from the nearby city on the other side of that hated Westring we walked alongside for a while come here to walk their dogs or go for a stroll with their kids, but mostly you see the same people around all the time. Most of them would blame the "outsiders" for the situation but at least some of those who call this place home are careless (or ignorant) of the part they play.

The neighborhood kids' scavenger hunt left candy wrappers all over the forest. The middle-aged guy with the German shepherd leaves a trail of cigarette butts. The Christmas decoration that wasn't taken down for last week's storm now decorates wild trees.

Ignorance will be the end of us if we don't start talking about our planet soon. This isn't about saving nature. It's about saving us. Nature will survive. In a thousand years, there will still be a planet. In a thousand years, there will be animals, and plants, and fungi. Will there be humans in a thousand years or will we have ignored the problem for so long that we couldn't save the species?

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.