There is an ecology of roadsides. Right now it’s lovely in southwest Michigan. Cutleaf toothwort, a small white ephemeral, spills out from the woods into the ditches. The grass is fresh. The poison ivy hasn’t shown up yet. Garlic mustard is just starting to raise its bushy, invasive heads. Deer graze the ditches at dusk, wild turkeys mosey across the road.
MacDonald’s is there, too, along with Old Milwaukee, Marlboro, Minute Maid, and Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum.
I pick up trash along my roadside. I used to do it now and then, when obnoxious amounts accumulated. Now every time I go out for a walk I take a bag with me because it’s easier if you keep up with it. I try to keep the mile and a half block where we live, between two crossroads, pristine. Thus I come to know each bit of trash personally. I practically see it fall.
The roadside trash ecology is dominated by fast food, smoking, drinking, and chewing gum. The litter consists of the wrapping of our worst stressors—sugar, fat, nicotine, and alcohol–flung out with carelessness and no doubt some anger, more stressors.
People here are under stress and our roadsides tell the story. No one has time or inclination to keep them clean. No one has time or inclination to see beauty, or create it. They do not believe, as I do, that the public space belongs to them.
And maybe they do not pay, as I do, for garbage pickup—though these days my bin is filled mostly with other people’s trash. Government does not provide these services. It is almost small enough here to drown in a bathtub.
Picking up trash is one way I practice ecological medicine. I do it for myself because trash offends my aesthetic sense, my serenity, and hence my wellbeing. I do it for my human neighbors, creating a canvas of serenity and beauty in the public place we share, hoping this will make life better for them. I do it to protect my grazing, pecking, gnawing neighbors who are lured by greasy Styrofoam. And I do it to relieve one stretch of stressed Earth of a small bit of its burden.
Some of my neighbors thank me for picking up trash. I suspect some neighbors throw trash out especially for me.