Roadside litter-gathering, a longtime tradition
May 1, 2022 | View PDF
My first bike ride of the season was on April 1 this year, two weeks earlier than spring 2021. That first ride is always thrilling after months of winter snowshoe lap exercise. The sides of the subdivision roads still had plenty of snow, but the road surface was finally ice free.
During my ride, I noticed more trees that had blown over during our horrendous January wind storm, but I also saw litter peeking out from snow banks. Instantly I was reminded of my huge litter-gathering project last spring.
Early in May 2021, I bought and assembled a new garden cart and picking up litter on the three miles of our subdivision roads was my first use of the new cart. I'd heard an announcement over one of our local radio stations about where to pick up free litter bags, as well as the location for dropping off full bags. With observation during my bike rides, I estimated about three bags' worth, so I planned to ask for four. They came in packages of five. All five were needed, even though I separated out the burnable items for later disposal on my brush pile fire.
So, for three days during the first week of May 2021, I spent all my spare time walking my subdivision roads with my garden cart - about eight hours. Not counting visiting time. One morning, two neighbor friends stopped to talk, about five minutes each. During an afternoon trip, the guy who plows our driveway stopped to chat for 10 minutes and would have continued, except I told him I needed to get back to work. Also, our local Master Gardener (who I had never met) called out a greeting as I pulled my cart by his house and the next thing I know, I was invited to tour his unique greenhouse and was given two tomato plants and a kale plant. Three complete strangers stopped and thanked me.
The exchanges were not all friendly, though. On the far side of the subdivision, I got into a little trouble. My cart was full and heavy while going down a hill and by the time I was able to get out a piece of iron (also litter) to block a tire and prevent further rolling, the cart was partially blocking someone's driveway. What were the chances of the owners needing to use their driveway while I picked up litter? Evidently quite good. I was down over the side of the bank, when a car slowed down and sure enough, the lady driver wanted to (but couldn't) enter her driveway. I was definitely on her property and dressed in my shabbiest of work clothes, so who knows what she imagined.
She got out of her car and called out, quite perturbed, "May I help you?"
"Sorry. I'm just picking up trash. I'll be right up."
She was not any happier to see me face to face. After I apologized for blocking her driveway and telling her that I've picked up litter in our subdivision every year for the last 10 years, her body language relaxed slightly and she was a little less snippy. I removed the chunk of iron and let the cart roll just enough to let her drive by. Then I sat and rested before turning around to avoid continuing downhill with such a heavy load. For the rest of that "leg" of the subdivision, it would be better to bring the litter to the cart, rather than vice versa.
My husband, Gary, also does not thank me. After I got home from my first evening trip, he asked the same question he asks every year. "Why is it your responsibility to pick up the subdivision litter?"
I gave him the same answer I do every year, which is that I love going on my daily bike rides, but looking at all the litter is unsettling and not pleasant. I don't do it out of the goodness of my heart, but so I can have more enjoyable bike rides. I do it for myself.
But, I don't get upset with him. I've had some health issues in the past, and he just doesn't want me to overdo. Picking up litter is not a new thing. Years ago, we used to do it together. In fact, in the early 2000s, it was Gary who signed us up for litter patrol on a one-mile section of the Tok Cut-Off, just south of the junction with the Nabesna Road. In exchange, the Dept. of Highways posted official blue and white (advertising) signs with the words "Nabesna House Bed and Breakfast" at each end of the mile.
The first year, using Gary's truck, we each took one side of the road and finished in about two hours. Who knows when the litter had been picked up prior to that, if ever. There was a full truck load. The year after, there was much less. It got to the point that I would go by myself with the car and I could walk quite a way in between picking up items. What took the longest was walking back to retrieve the car every so often.
I've spent much more time gathering litter in our present subdivision. For whatever reason, the volume was really high, spring of 2021. From what I can see so far, 2022 looks to be a much easier year. I'll be walking the roads with my garden cart in early May. If you see me and care to wave, I'll return the wave.
Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.