Life-long ‘trash picker’ shares colorful memories

By Deb Rhoades

I’m a trash picker; a collector of litter and self-appointed cleaner of the roadways.
When I was 10, my family moved from the crowded suburbs of Camp Hill Pennsylvania to the majestic mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, fulfilling my father’s dream of living in the wild west. Along with fresh air and an abundance of natural beauty, he discovered that the roadways were littered with soda pop bottles, beer cans, old tires, rotten tarps and a plethora of other discards.
Being a conservationist all his life, he knew something had to be done. It would start with us. My brother was three when my dad decided our small family of four would clean up the roadways. Thus began a family tradition.
Each spring, Dad would park our big blue station wagon along a stretch of road that he found most objectionable. He’d strap on a backpack containing refreshments and trash bags and off we’d go. My parent’s donned neon orange hunting vests to warn drivers of our whereabouts, as traffic screamed past us at 60 miles per hour or better. Ignoring my objections, Mom insisted I wear a red bandana on my head so drivers might see me, too.
For my brother’s safety, she tethered us together using a long piece of clothesline, tying it around our waists, giving us about five feet of freedom.
Mimi and Niki, our toy poodles, always accompanied us and were under my mother’s careful supervision. While the five of us stuck to the ditches in relative safety, dad cleaned up the edges of the highway.
I don’t remember finding anything of real value, but my brother had a genuine flair for finding money. Once, he even found a $20 bill. But, it was 1968 and recyclers were paying up to 32 cents a pound for aluminum. Separating the aluminum from everything else, it didn’t take long to earn enough for a reward of hamburgers, French fries and strawberry milkshakes at the local drive-in burger joint.
Spending time outdoors as a family was high on my father’s list of priorities, and he never voiced any concerns about what others may think of our strange outings. He was more interested in impressing upon us the importance of caring for and protecting our surroundings.
Now in my 50s, I still enjoy picking up trash. After the snow melts and before everything bursts into full foliage, I head out for my usual morning walk with trash bags stuffed in my pockets and work gloves on my hands. Walking and collecting trash is good for my body and mind. I walk further and with all the bending, stooping and squatting; I get a pretty good workout. My mind stays busy tracking down the next paper drink cup or beer can, and it’s satisfying to drive down a stretch of litter-free road.
Alaska can be a trashy place, especially with the ever-present wind. At times, it feels like anything lighter than a Volkswagen could be blown into the next hemisphere. However, can’t we all be more thoughtful about battening down our personal trash receptacles and securing loads on our way to the dump?
If everyone policed a mile, a block or even 10 feet of roadway in front of their residence or business, litter would not be much of a problem. As the snow melts, won’t you join me in cleaning up a little stretch of roadway? Let’s show our “pride of ownership” and collect some trash.

Deb Rhoades has lived in Homer and Anchor Point since 2007. She enjoys the outdoors with her dog, Taz.

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Posted by on Apr 17th, 2013 and filed under Point of View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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