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Picking Up After Others #makeAmericabeautifulagain #leaveonlyfootprints

Street view of the pond

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: 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”:

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.

My first haul picking up trash around the pond.

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.

My second haul from the pond. Yes, that is a rubber ducky in the middle.

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.

My new weapon for my #makeAmericabeautifulagain campaign.

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?

Wendy wishes she could control my camera and shut it off.

Categories: Inspiration Nature

Tagged as:

Marie A Bailey

Writer, blogger, knitter, cat lover, and introvert.

22 replies

    1. Ha ha … my knee is getting better although I’m hoping for an MRI so I can get a better diagnosis. I’m glad I started doing this too. I’ve thought about it for so long and since I regularly go for walks, there was no time like the present 🙂


      1. I’m glad your knee is getting better. This aging stuff is for the BIRDS. The gardener and I have enough aches and pains to fill a nursing home.


        1. lol! Well, I’m going to have an MRI in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed that it’s only a tear that will eventually heal … because I don’t want to do surgery.


  1. This is a wonderful thing that you’re doing, Marie. Recently, while commuting to work, I was at a red light and the car in front of me opened their door and proceeded to put their fast food bag and cup on the street! I truly thought I was seeing things because it has been so long since I’d seen someone liter. I couldn’t believe it. I scrambled for my phone to take a picture of the trash and their license plate, but it was dark and the light changed. I thought about that the rest of the morning. How could someone do that in their city? Take care of that knee!


    1. I will never understand why people do that. Why don’t they wait until they get home or at least near a proper trash bin? What are they thinking? As for my knee, it’s getting better, I think. I just don’t know what’s really wrong with it. I have arthritis but it don’t feel like arthritis 🤷🏼‍♀️ Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the rest of your weekend❤️


  2. That’s wonderful, Marie! Thank you for your concern about the environment. It’s greatly appreciated. (Though I hope you’ll equip yourself with some work gloves to protect your hands.) I love the fact that you tackle the problem, instead of walking by.


    1. Thanks, Linda! I’m keeping my focus small, that is, on the little critters that might benefit from my efforts rather than expect to save the planet. That helps me keep things in perspective and not get (too) discourages. And I forgot to mention that next time I plan to take cleaning gloves with me 😄


  3. I never would have thought about snakes being a menace around the pond. Just goes to show you how naive I can be about nature. I admire your decision to do this clean-up, but can’t help but feel sad that it needs to happen.


    1. Yeah, I’m not too sure about the snakes but I’m mindful of where I’m stepping. Generally, I respect snakes and don’t fear them, but I make exceptions for water moccasins 😬 I feel sad too that I am filling a need. I would much rather watch the turtles sunbathe than look for plastic ☹️


  4. What a great mission! Kind of a Sisyphus thing, I guess, because the work will never be complete, but at least you’re making a difference.

    It’s odd, but we don’t see much litter on our trails around here. I’m sure it’s not because the people are different. Probably just because we’re away from the typical sources like fast-food joints, etc.

    Here’s to you! 🏆


    1. Thanks, Kevin! Yeah, Sisyphean it definitely is. I’m pretty much walking through neighborhoods, areas that generally get a lot of foot traffic. A lot of the trash seems to come from local dumpsters or trash bins that either overflow or aren’t covered so trash gets blown around. My work will never be complete as long as there’s people … 😏


  5. Very inspiring, Marie. I walk every day, and although I don’t see much litter on the greenways, I should probably invest in a grabber. I am always getting fishing line, hooks, and bobbers out of the lake and around the trees at the lake. That is one of my greatest litter pet peeves, along with cigarette butts. I know the turtles appreciate you! And I do, too. And I think Wendy is only being modest. She’s a very beautiful model and addition to your words. 💚


    1. Good for you pulling out lines and hooks! When Greg and I canoed, we’d look for old lines to take away with us. I love my grabber 🙂 That’s great that you don’t see much litter where you walk. I’m walking through neighborhoods with fast food joints so there’s a greater potential for trash.


  6. You have discovered a new meditative practice! 🙂 Very cool, in addition to the benefit itself from clearing the pond of litter. I will think about your last question–do I ever come at a problem I can’t control sideways, rather than throwing up my hands?


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