Remember Woodsy Owl, from the 70s and 80s? He, along with Smokey the Bear, trained me early and often to take care of what I left behind. Fortunately, though, I also had extremely surroundings-mindful, hippy souls for parents. “Leave everywhere you go a little cleaner than you found it” was my mom’s credo; my dad’s, “Pick up for yourself plus one more.”
I was terrified of fire, and also of getting spanked, so I see why my early self absorbed these important lessons so wholly. That, combined with my brother being a slob and my mom paying me $2 to clean his room (the toys were everywhere; the floor, almost invisible), turned me into the uptight neurotic cleaner I am to this day.
I tried to teach my son by demonstration when he was young, but I was also in my Twenties and real unhappy with my job, so I barely gave him time to put anything down before I picked it up. While he was pretty messy as a youth, he has now grown into a male version of me, fidgeting and picking things up to clean, rarely sitting when people are in his house.
I automatically face store shelves. I clean up public restrooms – at least picking up scattered paper towels. And I pick up trash…in parking lots, and on the river.
That brings us to today. Josh and I were on a stretch of river and stopped to sightsee. And when I went to get back in my kayak, I noticed two cans, almost invisible because they were so deeply embedded into the earth. It took a bit to pull them out, and when I did, I noticed that one was a very-old-model Mountain Dew can, bleached by sun and almost unrecognizable, and one was Coke (as a past aficionado of both beverages, I know more than I’m usually comfortable admitting to myself about the styles of can through the years).
And that made me think of my perception of litterers vs. the reality.
What always helps me when I find trash in the rivers, aside from throwing it in my boat, is imagining the circumstances that led people to leave it.
I like to picture one of two things. The first, a capsized boat and a swift current. The boater is saved, but dragged, screaming and flailing, to land, while they scream “SOMEONE GET THE CANS!!!! PLEASE GOD, I CAN’T CONTRIBUTE TO DESECRATING THIS EARTH!!!!”
But the cans are gone.
The second is more friendly (everyone lives, before you get uppity). The mom of a family heads out from the stopping point to poke around and decides the family may as well leave too. The kids are jerks and toss their cans down when they hear their mom calling for them to get going.
What’s actually likely: empty containers blow out of boats. People are drunk. And, yes, some people don’t care.
I preach not judging people, but the truth is that I 100% do. I have no patience for people who leave messes, even if I know them to be great people otherwise. People who leave trash behind automatically at movie theaters, or self-bussing restaurants, are automatically darker in my mind. I think I see this happening:
But the truth is way more complex. People have distracting thoughts, or they’re hurried and dealing with a bunch of kids, or they’re just trying to hold it together and trying to get out of a public space before they have a panic attack. They may have entrusted trash pickup to another member of the party who just didn’t do it.
There is a definite benefit to raising children, and teaching people around us, by example and by patience, that we all just pick up after ourselves. But the older I get, the more gray everything is. The more forgiving I find myself becoming, the less uptight I get when my stepkids throw stuff on the ground and walk away. I mean, I absolutely make them pick it up, but I’m not nearly as hard on them as I was on my poor son.
And the more beautiful the nature around us has become, the healthier the planet has become from the shutdown, the more I really hope that we can all make small changes to allow it to continue. While I know that it’s corporations causing the vast majority of pollution on this scale, I also know that it’s people that work at corporations.
So…give a hoot! Whaddya say?
And while you’re giving a hoot, I have these recommendations:
Movie of the Day: Airplane!, Hulu. It’s zany and will remind you of a time when we used to get on airplanes!
Show of the Day: Six Feet Under, now on Hulu. It’s gorgeous, and it wasn’t available anywhere streaming for a long time. There has never been a show with a finale that struck me so intensely. Take advantage!
Song of the Day: In keeping with my favorite bands that I would kill to see live series, we have Langhorne Slim & the Law’s “Changes,” (above) because we’re all goin’ through ’em.
Plant of the day: coleus. I love these, and there are so many gorgeous varieties. It’s my go-to, and grows inside and outside very well! Get ya some!