In the early 1960s my family would eat dinner Friday nights on our laps in the car. We’d have McDonald’s hamburgers – the dainty-sized originals – or we’d pick up a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. In my earliest memory, we’d throw our leftovers out the car window, bucket and all. But then came Lady Bird Johnson and the Keep America Beautiful campaign, and we never threw anything out the car window again. I thought no one did, because we all knew better.
After picking up roadside debris around a little pond by our office for the past eight years, it turns out that people still throw things out car windows. A lot of things – mostly cigarette butts, but also candy wrappers, plastic and aluminum beverage containers, Styrofoam cups, paper and packing material – you name it. This year we picked up five bags of garbage, two car seats, one bike, countless plastic bottles and bags, and 1,600 cigarette butts in and around the pond across the road from our office.
The pond is wedged between our street and a highway that ferries busy commuter cars and family vans between Eden Prairie Center and points further south, down the hill past Flying Cloud Airport toward the river towns of Shakopee and Chaska.
Noteworthy to us – and to its inhabitants
It’s not a particularly noteworthy pond, at least not to the thousands of commuters who drive by it each day on their way to and from more important locations. Maybe they don’t even see it, since the pond is tucked away below the highway. But even if it’s not noteworthy to them, it is noteworthy to us, and to its wild inhabitants – ducks, geese, muskrats, deer, bats, red-winged blackbirds – and, I suspect, a few fish, although I’ve never checked.
We have tended its shores every year for the past eight Earth Days. Each year, there is a disheartenly large amount of debris – almost as if we never picked up anything at all. But we remind ourselves, like a favorite song: Remember the year we picked up that button advertising the Wood Tick Races – the same year we had a profusion of ticks crawling up our pant legs? Remember the first year we had 12 plastic bags full of garbage? Do you remember the year we found 15 real estate signs, left for dead on the side of the road – in the midst of the real estate bubble?
Part of a larger ethos
Those stories are part of our larger story, for we are storytellers at heart. So we are driven to make sense of this story as part of a larger ethos about caring for little corners of the world, forgotten by most, but precious to a few. I can’t help but wonder what the world might be like if everyone – and every company – nurtured a small parcel of land – not with chemicals and fertilizer, but with things far more elemental: elbow grease and strong backs, tempered by good hearts and a sense of humor about how aren’t we really like Sisyphus, rolling the eternal boulder up the mountain, only to watch it cascade back down the hill?
But really, we have made some progress. This year, we picked up just five bags of garbage, versus 12 bags our first year. We report to each other, with hope: Yes, there was less trash this year than other years, right?
So to you Flying Cloud Drive commuters, real-estate agents, teenagers on dates with a six-pack of beverages and nowhere to go, we have a request and a promise. We will pick up this little pond and care for it. But please, don’t throw garbage out your window. Pick up your real-estate signs when the showing is over. Save the pop bottles and candy wrappers for your next stop. Garbage cans are everywhere; recycling bins nearly so.
But there is only this one little pond. So do this one little thing for it, and for the red-winged blackbirds: Think. Please. Don’t. Throw.
Mary Lilja is the founder and president of Lilja Inc. in Eden Prairie.
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