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Green Bag and Pointed Stick


by Jules Rabin

Besides the mighty changes going on in the country now that keep some of us tuned in as never before to the daily news, I can testify to a small change on our road in Marshfield. Yesterday, my wife and I went out on our quiet, unpaved road in observance of Green Up Day, each carrying an empty green plastic bag and a stick with a nail, point out, at its end—our usual equipment when we go a-scavenging on that one day of the year.

We’ve made that brief annual trek along the same road for most of the last 50 years, beginning in 1969 or 1970, and I can happily testify that the pickings of the roadside litter we go after on that single day of the year were slimmer this year than ever before.  As usual, bottles and cans predominated in the litter we picked up. We’re a thirsty race and don’t mind shelling out money to quench our thirst when our drink is laced with alcohol or sugar.  But the bottles and cans were much fewer in number this year than usual, and than ever before in my experience, in fact.  The same with fast-food wrappings.  And—Puritans and health advocates, take heart!—our “haul” held fewer beer cans and cigarette packages than ever before.

Of course, given the statistics of small numbers, the casual conclusions we drew Saturday from that once-a-year foray we make with our green bags—that the times they are a changing—could have been caused by a change in the habits of just one person traveling that stretch of road just a few times a week throughout the year: that one smoker and drinker, perhaps, who traveled our road on his way home from work and looked for solace from life’s hardships in the contemplative half hour of the drive home with a beer and a snack handy to tone down life’s large hungers.  Might it be that this year our hypothetical traveler turned over a new leaf, or moved to another place, and no longer takes out his griefs, if that’s what they are, by delivering a couple of tosses on our peaceful roadside?

Who knows?

There are two established farms, incidentally, on our stretch of road.  While doing my annual Green Up stint I saw one farmer neighbor, too distant to greet, cutting firewood on his “free” Saturday morning. The second of those two farmers came out of his barn to greet me and say a few words when I hove into sight. He had been working—I could see that on his shirtfront—on the selfsame morning I was sporting with my green bag and nail-pointed stick.

The job I was doing was merely decorative, you might say, with no cash value even, to mark its small importance. But maybe in a very large perspective, the health of the planet, for example, and the bequest of a visible form of decency to our posterity, my green-bag-and-pointed-stick routine was “necessary,” just as the work my two neighbors were doing was necessary. Mine just did not have the immediacy of the pressing work they were doing right then on that same Saturday morning.