In the early years we lived on this place, the “Lori measuring stick” ruled as I made my weekly rounds in the electric buggy, picking up neighborhood trash on our ten acres. I ranted and grumbled about the carelessness of our neighbor’s lack of trash disposal. I had expectations about how people should respectfully keep up the appearance of their yards and housing. Because other’s did not treat trash the way I was brought up to, I had a real mess of ill thoughts floating around in my head each week as I picked up all sorts of discarded rubble. Didn’t people know to bag their loose trash? Why did people just toss litter from their cars as they drove down the streets? And why on earth would people chunk large items of rubbish like old bicycles, tires, busted flower pots, garden hoses, and broken lawn chairs, over the alley fence into our woods?
As time went on and the trash floating about the property was more under control, I began to see beyond my own discontent about community trash. I noticed the effects of human discards on the environment and, specifically, on wildlife. I found birds entangled in string or ribbon from balloons, and in a farmer’s discarded hay bale netting. I once found a snake that had suffocated in a plastic bottle. And of course I had witnessed Daisy deer pick up shiny trash out of curiosity – usually she spit the garbage out, but a few times she ingested it. Sometimes, I discovered small bits of refuse in fox and coyote scat. And one day while walking in the woods behind our home, I discovered a fox hole with lots of meat packaging, fast food, and snack bags littering the immediate area. It dawned on me then, that wildlife was bringing some of the trash on our property. My attitude about people’s reckless regard for the land and the wildlife that lived here got even worse. Did I live among idiots? Were people lazy and just did not care about the impact on our environment?
When we purchased the fifty-two acres of pecan property, the range of trash pickup increased tremendously. At first the job was so great that FD and I took buggy rides around the property lines, filling fifty-gallon trash bags. With the city park to our north along a very busy road, and a Walmart Super Center and a new housing addition along the south fence lines of the orchard property, the task seemed overwhelming at first. After almost two years, the job is more manageable and most of the time I do the trash collecting job alone, except on holidays or after events when the city park just across the road to the north sees increased activity. We still have a lot of agricultural trash to deal with on the property – old tires, hydraulic hoses, metal from old implements, wire fencing, and plastic waste from livestock buckets and feeders. Cleaning up all that is a bigger task, and one we simply have not found the time to achieve.
It did not take me long to realize my anger and irritation about the issue of human litter only served to keep me twisted up. Rather than gripe and complain about something I could never control, I accepted that cleaning up after others was part of being a steward of the land. Over time, I just picked up the debris and looked for the silver lining in the work before me. I was the lucky person to be working outdoors in nature. It was good exercise. I learned about people’s eating and drinking habits, and made discoveries about other aspects of people’s lifestyles. It could be rather entertaining sometimes. And best of all, I was improving the environment.
Most of the time, FD and I are both in the habit of tucking a trash bag in a pocket and collecting what we find on hikes to the river, and I always carry a bucket or bag as I work in various locations on the property. Last week I meandered off to the wheat field south of our orchard property, between the housing addition and Walmart. I picked up the loose trash that had collected along the wheat field just on the other side of our fence. With warm breezes and wind from the south over the spring and summer months, we will eventually get the loose trash that blows from that area into our woodlands. I think of it as preventive conservation, to nab the trash before it finds its way on our side of the fence.
My mind no longer festers with ugly thoughts about the people who carelessly and thoughtlessly discard their trash. Sometimes the trash speaks to me, bringing a chuckle or a thought for pondering. Sometimes I think up a story about how some item of trash might have ended up where it did. There are times I marvel at the creativity of birds and mammals who utilize human trash in their nests and shelters. Every once in a while, I am personally rewarded for my efforts by finding something I can use.