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Year-round Green-up

06/02/08 7:55AM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST) Green-up day may have come and gone for another year, but  free lance writer, teacher and commentator Mary McCallum says that on her road - the effort to keep Vermont green - goes on forever.

(McCALLUM) When I was a kid my brothers and I collected deposit bottles and cans from the roadsides and vacant lots in our Long Island neighborhood. The notion that it was litter did not occur to us. We turned the bottles into quick cash at the local General Store and feasted on Hostess Twinkies paid for by other people’s trash.

Now I live in rural Vermont and see things differently. As soon as the snow disappears, I walk along my winding dirt road doing my own personal greening up. Since my town holds Green Up Day during the week instead of on the designated Saturday, I can’t collect trash with my neighbors. I miss the fellowship and the satisfaction that comes from a group effort well done. But unfortunately, I don't miss out on the trash. On my scenic road that meanders along a rushing stream there is plenty of garbage for all of us - and the effort to keep it green is year round.

People know about this stream, with its deep shadowy trout pools, its summer swimming hole and the falls that crash over boulders during spring melt. They park under the leafy canopy of trees in summer to picnic, swim, fish and hop along the rocks that push above the surface of the racing water. And then many of these would-be nature lovers leave their trash behind.

I’m puzzled by this disregard for public space, and astounded by the sheer volume of what people leave for the rest of us to pick up: bottles, cans, cigarette butts poured out of car ashtrays, coffee cups with plastic lids, fast food packaging, fishing line, empty bait containers, disposable diapers. There’s more, but you get the picture.

For a couple of days this spring, I kept a tally of what I picked up on my roadside walks. I limited my haul to items along the roadside, leaving the stuff resting in deep ditches and steep swampy patches for another day. On just two walks, I carried home twenty-seven containers, ranging from clean recently-pitched bottles to flattened cans that looked like wrinkled aluminum playing cards, probably churned up by the town road grader. Only three were for non-alcoholic beverages, and the majority of the remaining twenty-four were cans of just one popular brand of beer.

The aluminum cans and glass bottles clanked together in two plastic bags, providing a tinny rhythm to my brisk pace. As I walked home, I looked forward to washing their stale smell from my hands and thought about the quirky demographic they represent of local folks who drive that stretch of road. I also thought about the dollar-thirty or so I’d net at the redemption center - pure road cash - an easy profit from a springtime walk. If I were still a kid, I'd probably buy myself a package of Twinkies. But as an adult, all I could think of was how much I'd rather come home empty handed.
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