Picking up a mess

Every time I see someone throwing trash on the ground — especially in parks and woods — I wonder what jerk raised that person. I wonder who he thinks is going to clean up after him.

And then I think about a lesson I learned a few years ago. It’s something worth remembering during Earth Week.

This little story takes place in 2003, during the last few miles of a 24-mile run in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I was tired and just trying to keep my legs going at a 9-minute pace. My mind was empty, just taking in the sights around me — the river, the meadows, the hillside.

But up ahead, about a quarter mile in the distance, I noticed something. It was a group of people wearing orange vests, picking up trash out of ditch.

As I got closer, I recognized one of the people. He was a co-worker of mine at the newspaper — a nice, friendly copy editor named Tim.

I waved to him as I passed. He waved to me. And then I felt terrible. Poor Tim, I thought. He’s so desperate for money that he’s picking up trash on weekends, probably for minimum wage with some federal litter-control program.

Then another thought hit me, even worse. Maybe Tim was doing community service as part of some court sentencing.

My mind raced. What was Tim arrested for? Driving under the influence? Threatening a neighbor?

Yes, funny things happen to my mind after a few hours of running.

I wondered if I should pretend I never saw him. He would probably appreciate that, I thought.

But on Monday, Tim came up to me in the newsroom and said: “Did you see me on Saturday? You looked pretty good, running up that hill.”

“Um, yes, I saw you,” I said. “You were picking up trash. What group were you with?”

I steeled myself for the worst. What would he say? The sheriff’s work detail? The low-income summer litter program?

“The Sierra Club,” Tim said. “We adopted that stretch of road. We go out there every month and pick up the litter.”

I didn’t know what to say. Boy, did I feel like a jerk.

Here he was, doing a wonderful service, volunteering as part of a group that tries to keep the earth clean, one mile at a time.

And I had felt sorry for him, thinking the worst.

I wish I could say I went back the next month to help the Sierra Club pick up litter. But I didn’t. I just kept running through the valley, enjoying the beautiful sights — thanks in part to Tim and his friends.

This week, the country celebrated the 40th anniversay of Earth Day. Again, I did nothing.

Well, mostly nothing. In my own little way, I celebrate Earth Day every day. I recycle. I buy long-lasting light bulbs. I combine trips. I even bring home and wash out my sandwich bags, and re-use them a dozen times.

But Mrs. Trail Boy is the real greenie in the family. She makes homemade granola. She has a composting bin in the back yard. She buys lots of clothes at secondhand stores.

Still, we could do more.

Yesterday, I posted a bunch of quotes from famous environmentalists in honor of Earth Day. I did it mostly for myself. I need the reminders.

Yes, we need to take care of the earth. It’s the best friend we have.

And I need to find a local chapter of the Sierra Club, and show up a few times a year with my work gloves.

(To return to the home page, click here.)

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2 Responses to “Picking up a mess”

  1. Great post! We only have one Earth and we need to do what we can to keep it alive and strong. I try to pick up at least one piece of trash on my runs. For the most part, the trails I run are pretty well preserved. My fellow trail runners are, for the most part, environmental friendly. Of course, I think the 2 go hand in hand. You have have to love the beauty of this land to be a trail runner.

    Way to get in your long run. Did my 2nd 50k for the year this last Saturday. Felt great.

    Loved the Earth Day quotes!

    Good luck at your marathon in 3 weeks.

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