Glorious Litter

Photo by Leonid Danilov on

I want to focus this column on thanking all of the dedicated litterers out there, who help to make our community a better place.  I also want to apologize to you collectively.  I must confess that in the past I have harbored ill will toward you.  I considered you to be selfish, slovenly, inconsiderate slobs who bore no appreciation for the beauty of our state and who did not respect the rights and property of others.  However, a series of recent experiences have shown me how wrong I have been and have helped me to understand your true selfless nature.  I only hope that you can forgive me, and that future insinuations by uninformed people like me will not discourage or deter you from your noble life’s work.

The first event that triggered the beginning of my mental paradigm shift occurred just a stone’s throw up Tanana Loop Extension from my house.  In that location yawns an old gravel pit. Concrete barricades have blocked off its two entrances.  However, enough room remains before the barriers for a vehicle to pull off of the road, and at the entrance closest to my house, a vehicle can actually drive deep enough into the trees and brush to be nearly out of sight of the road. 

Not long ago, it so happened that I had left my house and started for town.  However, realizing I had forgotten something, I pulled into this particular gravel pit entrance to turn around.  The shocking sight that met my eyes spiked my blood pressure until I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears.  My head throbbed like a drumming grouse during mating season.  Above the cacophony, I could barely hear my own voice shouting things in a distorted, strangled tone.

“What kind of an idiot would be so stinking lazy as to drive in here and dump a pick-up load of jumbo trash bags stuffed with garbage into the bushes?  This is absolutely unconscionable!  I wish I had been hiding behind this barrier with a baseball bat when they showed up!  The unmitigated morons!  Who do they think is going to clean this mess up…”

I said some other things too, which weren’t nearly so nice.  However, once the flickering red haze behind my eyeballs had subsided, I was able to take a closer look.  As I did so, the wisdom of the gravel pit dumpers began to emerge.  I saw that most of the trash bags were torn open, and that the contents had been distributed in a wide swath around the area.  From rosebushes fluttered plastic grocery bags.  Soda cans glinted among the alders.  Empty cereal boxes nestled upon the sphagnum.  It was clear that some animal had torn open the bags and scattered the trash.

 I knew that there were only two possibilities.  The animal that had made this mess had either been wild or domesticated.  Whichever was true the creature had been clearly hungry.  It began to dawn on me that the litterers had served our community in two ways.  First, they had provided a welcome dietary change for any poor little bunnies or squirrels or grizzly bears out there who were tired of eating their boring natural fare.  Secondly, the litterers had drawn the roaming neighborhood dogs away from my trashcan, saving me many sleepless nights and the cost of several shotgun shells.  Thank you, my littering friends!

The second event that continued to reshape my appreciation for our community litterbugs occurred on Community Clean-up Day.  It was then that I with Boy Scout Troop 56 took a yellow bag in hand and walked the stretch of road between the Deltana Fairgrounds and Delta Building Supply.  Oh the wonders we did meet!  The variety and quantity of man-made debris that we encountered was humbling.

For instance, in a one-mile stretch we collected about 250 discarded foam coffee cups.  A quick calculation reveals this number to be precisely the number of workdays minus weekends and holidays since Troop 56 last cleaned that stretch of street.  I don’t know who you are, but out there is some honest workingman who every morning on his way to the job buys a cup of coffee, finishes it at a certain point in his commute, and chucks the cup out of his window.

I salute you, brave coffee drinker!  Without your consistent and tireless effort, the Boy Scouts would be sitting around with no way to accumulate their community service hours.  Without community service hours there can be no rank advancement, and with no rank advancement, they could never achieve Eagle Scout.  In fact, it is because of unsung heroes like you, O anonymous coffee cup litterer, that the rest of the world has heard of famous Eagle Scouts such as William Bennett, Gerald Ford, Steven Spielberg, William Westmoreland, Neil Armstrong, Donald Rumsfeld and H. Ross Perot.

Another interesting and valuable piece of trash that the Boy Scouts were lucky enough to discover consisted of a large glossy picture which appeared to have at one time been stapled into the center of a magazine.  This particular photographic representation captured the image of a healthy young lady who appeared to be relaxing in the privacy of her home. 

I believe the young scout who discovered this was able to instantly check off several requirements for both his Family Life and Medicine merit badges, not to mention that it gave the other scouts a chance to practice their first aid skills when the aforementioned scout fainted dead away with the exhilaration of his discovery.  With any luck, perhaps this young man will be inspired to go on to medical school and become a world-famous gynecologist.  Thank you, litterers for making our scouting saga so rich and memorable!

The third litter experience became the final catalyst, which served to coalesce my evolving new appreciation for litterers into an inexorable worldview.  On Memorial Day weekend, some friends and I took a little biking/camping trip.  On Friday evening we topped the final rise before Meadows Road dips down into the camping area at Twin Lakes.  It was a gorgeous day. 

Before us, the white-capped mountains rose in rugged majesty.  A light wind rippled the placid waters of the lakes.  The fresh spring leaves fluttered in greeting.  Birds chirped, squirrels chattered.  An old pair of soiled infant’s pants welcomed us from the underbrush.  The shredded remnants of somebody’s sweater added a festive touch of color to the mosaic of charred logs, half melted plastic containers and smashed beer cans in the fire pit.  Rusted steel debris, broken bottles and food wrappers adorned the campsite.  It made one proud to be an Alaskan!

Not only would we have the opportunity to enjoy the pristine Alaskan wilderness, but we would also be comforted by the sights and smells of civilization.  Years ago when I was a kid venturing off on overnight camping trips in the remote country around Moose Hole, Alaska, there were times when the virgin wilderness could be downright scary.  A mile from the road, raw antiquity swallowed you up.  Except for the items you carried in, there was no way to tell that mankind had ever set foot in the place.  It could have been 5000 years previous for all the evidence to the contrary.

That’s unnerving.  It activates the imagination.  I would sit on the moss in the lee of a massive ageless white spruce and almost believe that a saber-toothed tiger or a lumbering mastodon or a Hyracotherium might emerge from the willow thicket at any moment.  There was no trace of smog in the air, and with the exception of the occasional distant drone of an airplane, the only sounds to be heard were those of wild animals and birds and 325.9 million mosquitoes.

How much better it felt now to be able to glance around and see confirmation that people did indeed inhabit this planet.  It only took a half hour to clear away enough trash to have room to pitch our tents.  Some items had to be moved a little further away than others since their particular smells of civilization seemed to be a couple of weeks old and had developed a full-bodied bouquet. 

It took about an hour and a half to clear the campsite of broken glass.  This provided a welcome bit of aerobic exercise after our relatively sedentary three-hour uphill bike trip.  By the time we were able to begin preparing supper we had all sunk into the delicious bliss of fatigue.  It was a good kind of tired.  Only a person who has put in a good day’s work can appreciate the satisfaction of complete mental and physical exhaustion.  We gulped down our Mountain House supper, drank some Tang, and then picked our way through the trash piles to collapse into our sleeping bags.  We allowed sleep to abduct us.

When we awoke the next morning, however, our work had just begun.  Being a strong advocate of the “Leave no Trace” philosophy of camping, I always strive to leave a campsite as close to nature as possible.  This means, of course, that not only do we pack out everything we brought in, but we also pack out everything that anyone else has not packed away from the campsite within the past century. 

Our daypacks and bike panniers were going to have to exceed their recommended load capacity.  Our bicycle load tolerances would be over limit as well.  What a remarkable opportunity to demonstrate the rugged quality of our equipment.  What an excellent chance for a cardiovascular workout!  I cannot thank you enough, all you litterers extraordinaire!  Not only did you provide reassurance of humankind’s existence on our lonely vigil, but you also helped us get into shape.  Not to mention the fact that you helped to stimulate the economy by keeping my chiropractor busy in the days since the camping trip.  Kudos!

I only hope that someday I can return the sacrificial service with which you litterers have enriched our great state.  Perhaps I will someday discover your identity.  Maybe I will be driving behind you and catch you throwing a coffee cup or beer can out of your car window.  Maybe I will arrive at a campsite just as you are breaking camp and can witness what you neglect to take with you.  Maybe I will actually be hiding behind that concrete barrier with my baseball bat, waiting for you. 

However it occurs, when I find out who you are, I will bless you and your posterity to many generations.  I will pour out upon your property my bags of trash at every available opportunity.  I will stack it on your porch and scatter it across your driveway.  I will splatter it on your house and dribble it upon your car.  May you experience in some small measure the joy and fulfillment that you have brought into my life and the lives of the Boy Scouts of America and other fine citizens of this community. 

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