Monday, August 25, 2008

Beauty is Contagious

One thing that bothered me most about moving to to the 'country' was roadside litter. Because it was unlikely that city dwellers would drive all that distance just to toss a beer can or bag of fast food condiments, it was clear that it was local folks spoiling their own backyard. Now, to be sure, ninety-percent of the neighbors would never think of trashing another's property; the ten percent had me baffled. One of the first things we did at Marygate was to clean up the road frontage, not only for ourselves, but to create a bit of visual calm for the routine traveler of that long and winding road. So after three years, we have eliminated all of the tangled and thorny growth, healed most of the ugly erosion, and strive to keep the native vegetation short, green and rolling.

I have a theory that even the most jaded of litterers is less likely to unload that empty skoal can onto a pristine landscape. And indeed, since my relentless (if not anal retentive) obsession with beautifying that long hunk of land between my pasture fence and County Road 170, I believe there is significantly less trash to pick up each Saturday morning. When I first started my Saturday morning 'border patrol' it was not uncommon to fill two or three shopping bags full of cans, bottles, and assorted paper and styrofoam packaging (not to mention the occasional muffler and empty oil container). These days, I could go 2 or three weeks without filling even a small Wal-Mart bag. I like to think my effort has created some appreciation, if not respect for the improved view. The greatest reward comes when some unnamed driver slows down, rolls down the window and offers something like "I really like what you've done with the place."

Sometimes a little personal pride can inspire emulation. I think of an incident from the old days, when we lived in Michigan in a subsidized housing project. There was a congenital apathy about lawn appearance (if you could call those postage sized front walkways lawns!). One day I couldn't take it any more. I pushed my two boys (aged three and five) out the door one windy September day armed with a bag and instructions to pick up the paper and trash that was freely blowing all over the hood. Within a half hour I noticed a lot of the single moms (I was one of only two actual residential fathers on the whole block) nudging their toddlers out the door with little bags in their hands as well. It wasn't long before the rows of dwellings surrounding the big parking lot looked pretty good. Something to think about.

Wait till next year - when the wildflowers go in!

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