They were careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into… their vast carelessness… and let other people clean up the mess they made.”  

Thus Nick Carraway describes Tom and Daisy Buchanan in Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic, “The Great Gatsby.” We have all met the Buchanans or at least their like.  

Good friends of mine recently dealt with the aftermath of such carelessness.

A discarded cigarette, a Marlboro Red to be precise, started a small wildfire near their little piece of Ozark paradise that could have been a real disaster if caught only moments later. A thoughtless act could have destroyed a valley of homes if given just a bit more of a head start and a little bit more wind.

The couple put the fire out, while I am sure the person responsible was going on with their carefree life.

The majority of wildfires all across our country are the result of human carelessness. In 2015, there were more than 68,000 wildfires destroying over 10 million acres of forest. Thirteen people lost their lives in these fires and ninety percent were started by humans, generally by accident.

Financial costs are in the hundreds of millions. All because of careless and thoughtless actions on the part of what I hope are the few.

I had an uncle that compared the starting of wildfires with the spreading of rumor and discontent.

“You drop a word or a match where they don’t belong and you’ve got problems. They both may seem pretty harmless while still in your grasp, but once loosed cannot be easily brought back in rein.”

Don’t know if he was a Fitzgerald fan, but sure he’d read James all his life.

Last summer I was fairly busy picking trash out of Ozark streams and their borders. People wonder about the tires and refrigerators we gather, along with cans, bottles and the occasional table and grill.

Some were perhaps discarded miles from the rivers and after decades of rain found themselves in the pristine waterways. Others just casually tossed out of a canoe or boat; even left on a gravel bar after they’d fulfilled their immediate usefulness. All placed where they did NOT belong.

The same is being done along our roads. Cans and bottles tossed mid-journey along our highways; larger vessels carried to county and private roads. Entire bags of trash deposited as if these country lanes were their private garbage dumps. This is an affront to landowners as well as all who travel these routes.

Years ago I was with a dear old friend enjoying the beginning of hunting in the fall. We’d just dined on Vienna sausage and crackers when he calmly tossed his now empty can on the ground.

When I picked it up and challenged his behavior, his response was, “Everybody does it; some worse!”

We cannot and I will not let such thinking become our standard. We must raise the bar!

We worry about what our children read and watch. We recognize how such entertainment might influence their future behaviors. Centuries ago Plato cautioned we cannot “just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tale.”

A legitimate concern, to be sure; but how much more powerful are the examples that we adults place before them?

I shudder when I hear what our children are sometimes exposed to; both actions and words. Let us all be more careful what incendiary items of all kinds we thoughtlessly drop.

We must all quit retreating to our “vast carelessness.”

By Rick Mansfield

(Rick Mansfield is a seasoned storyteller and writer, and is always looking for new audiences. He can be reached at emansfield2004@yahoo.com.)