I have a favorite pond near where I work. It’s small, roughly a half mile in diameter and shaped like a stretched-out kidney. It often plays host to dozens of pond sliders (turtles), minnow-like fish, and large birds such as blue herons and egrets. The pond sits across the intersection, diagonal to my office building. When my knee was in better working condition and I could go for daily long walks, I’d always start off at the pond, taking the asphalt nature trail (there’s something oxymoronic about an asphalt nature trail, isn’t there?) past the overly expensive McMansions and along the larger pond which they call a lake and then back down to my office.
When my knee was better, I walked with a fairly fast stride. These days, not so much. As my stride slowed, my awareness of litter increased. That awareness was also peaked by two writers I follow, one through WordPress and one through Medium. Jan Priddy describes picking up trash amongst little pretty things like sea glass on the beach near her home: https://janpriddyoregon.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/gathering/ Tammy Hader muses about what she can and can’t control, noting “All I can do is pick up the trash and keep on walking”: https://medium.com/journal-of-journeys/one-person-at-a-time-starts-with-me-6058bece64b0
Inspired by these two writers, I set about to grab a grabber and a trash bag and see what kind of difference (if any) I can make to the pond. My first time out resulted in this interesting haul.
It was a windy day so I had to use pine cones to keep the bag from flapping around while I took the photo. My hands were also bare and, since so much of the trash was mucky, I chose not to play around with the contents. But you can see the rather large lager can, prominent among the muck, my prize, if you will.
At the time, the water level in the pond was low, making it a perfect opportunity to get to trash that would otherwise be under water. While I was dismayed to see the beer can, my heart was truly broken by all the bits of plastic I found. I’m sure most of those bits were blown in by the dumpster from a large apartment complex that sits on the other side of the pond.
My heart was broken but my spirit was strong in its resolve to continue the practice, especially since I filled almost two-thirds of the 13-gallon trash bag. I brought that bag home and put it in our own bin, not trusting the bins around my workplace to be secure enough.
I imagine I was an odd sight, shuffling along the water’s edge, grabbing bits and pieces of trash. A coworker on a walk stopped to see what I was up to. I mentioned the turtles and fish and my fear that all this trash was harmful. He smiled and said it was a nice thing I was doing. I think he was sincere as one time, when he and I were literally crossing paths, we stood together for a few moments to admire a hawk in a tree.
An elderly man also stopped. I recognized him from previous encounters when he’d be walking one of his dogs and he would talk to me about looking out for poisonous snakes. He’d make a point of killing a snake if it were poisonous because people, especially children, might get hurt. He came over to tell me to watch out for snakes. I assured him that I was and he moved on and let me get back to sweeping the tall grass with my grabber.
I suppose the best part of this experience was finding and removing all the junk I found. There was something else, though, something deeply felt but not seen. Walking the edge of the pond, carefully placing one foot in front of the other as my eyes focused on the water and the muck and the grasses, looking for anything that might bounce light from the sun, I lost sense of time. I felt myself recede from the world I have to inhabit most of my waking hours and emerge into another one, a world of tiny objects like cigarette butts but also of insects, of algae, of water that’s green and brown. My world slowed down along with my breath. I only knew the time, and the fact of when I needed to return to the other world, because I wore a watch. Without the watch, I wouldn’t have known if I had been out there for ten minutes or a full hour.
I’ve become somewhat addictive to this process now. A few days later I went out to the pond again, this time with smaller, grocery store bags. I went around the pond’s perimeter and was disappointed to find myself filling those bags. I did scan some bushes on the other side of the trail and found a couple of beer bottles, but most of what I found was along the pond’s edge. Including a rubber ducky.
I don’t know if the turtles appreciate my efforts, but it does my heart good to see them around the pond with a little less danger of getting trapped in a plastic bag.
So it seems I have a new mission in life. The third time I went out, my knee was feeling better so I took a regular walk, picking up trash as I went. Most of it was paper but it still filled my grocery bag. It was still worth picking up and hauling away.
I’ve since treated myself to a new grabber, this one with a longer reach.
It’s 40 inches, six more than my original grabber which I’ve gifted to my husband. Given that I’ve risked falling into the pond twice, a longer grabber is necessary.
I know I can’t control what other people do, but I can control what I do. If I can’t stop people from littering, I can pick up the litter and dispose of it properly. What do you do to give yourself a sense of control over a problem when you know you can’t control the problem itself?