There’s a nearby road I run up early in the morning year-round. In winter there’s the softly falling pre-dawn snow, bright stars shining down through the frigid dark air, and sometimes I see elk or moose. In spring and summer the birds sing out, solo or part of a choir, as the sun paints the barest of pinks, yellows and oranges across the first hour of blue sky.
In the last few days as I’ve kept a sharp eye out for tiny spring blooms popping up their heads, the receding snow has instead revealed a treasure trove fit for a rat. Garbage in gullies, culverts, snagged in the lustrous needles of evergreens and budding-out branches of shrubs. So much debris that I decided to improve my outlook and go pick up that trash.
Monday May 1, May Day, seemed a perfect choice for my rubbish walk. I suited up with blue nitrile gloves, grabbed a sturdy trash bag, and headed out the door. I figured it would take me about an hour to cover two miles of road, four miles total of detritus gathering.
Two hours later I trudged up the driveway, staggering under the weight of my ripping garbage bag. The muscles of my arms and back were so maxed out I had to count my steps the last quarter-mile to focus on the finish line of home. Sunburned and thirsty, I peeled off my gloves, and inside each finger-tip was a literal puddle of sweat.
The photo above was my take for the day. What you can’t see are the dozens of cigarette butts, broken glass bottles, car parts, a rusty bike chain, and so much more. In the first half-mile of my trek, I was dismayed by what I was picking up and how much of it there was. I was disgusted by humans who cared so little about this beautiful place that they thoughtlessly trashed it.
That began to give way to what I found highly interesting: the reaction of the people around me to what I was doing. Many cars passed me. Some slowed down, even gave me a little space, many did not. A few sped by so closely I wondered if they were aiming for me. One driver called out “thank you” through their open window. In two hours’ worth of cars, one single motorist acknowledged the clean-up.
Four cyclists, a skateboarder, and a pedestrian - all passed by without saying a word. In fact, they turned their heads away as if they were embarrassed to see me. One person on foot called out a “thank you for picking up,” and my very favorite, a runner cruising by, said “thank you, thank you for doing that.”
To be clear, I did not do this in order to be thanked. My motivation was self-serving: I wanted to enjoy my morning run sans litter. But the plethora of trash and the majority of encounters on the road Monday left me with a distinct awareness of human disconnection.
The three people who made the effort to express appreciation made my May Day. When they did that, it helped me feel a connection to them, for just a brief moment. A reminder that we are on the same team, all human, all in this together.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT