Grab a friend and get grimy down by the river.
The weekend after Earth Day has become the anointed time for outdoor spring cleaning in Minneapolis/St.Paul, with volunteers pitching in at organized clean up events across the metro area. But you don’t really need an organized event, and any old day can be Earth Day. On Saturday my friend Vanessa and I made a pit stop during a leisurely twenty mile bike ride to pick up trash along the Mississippi River. Once you start looking, the trash leaps out to find you.
Any path down to shore will do. We descended the first we found, and sat a while on the cement arm of a boat slipway, eating split pea soup from my thermos. Vanessa spotted the first stray plastic bag in a tangle of branches on the bank facing us, and we wove our way through the undergrowth toward it. I spied a snow white cluster of styrofoam, and then yellow caution tape waved to us from the shallow water, beckoning us upstream.
A secluded clearing came into view, and looked like a place people might congregate. That’s where the trash began to overwhelm. Plastic bottles, foam cups, cigarette butts, and candy wrappers languished in the late April mud; mingled with surprises like plaid boxer shorts, a matching pair of breathing masks, and a plastic bag marked “patient’s belongings” like you get at the hospital. We felt like crime scene investigators.
Most striking was the proliferation of foam, in countless iterations. Carpet pads, packing peanuts, ear plugs, insulation. I had a hard time dislodging one large chunk of foam from the tree roots that had grown through it, and noticed many more bits too small to pick up. Have you heard about the proposed ban on polystyrene food containers in Minneapolis? I’m excited about it, and enacted my own a personal ban years ago.
It’s yucky dragging trash out of the muck, but it does give a sense of achievement. Bring hand sanitizer, work gloves, a good sized bag, a thermos of soup, and a friend at whom you can make grossed-out faces. Vanessa’s a good one, and when she’s not scrambling along riverbanks with me, you’ll find her selling one of a kind vintage fashions and whatnots online at Blacklist.
We made a dent, but the trash seemed to multiply before our eyes. Vanessa said, “this problem is bigger than us.” We contented ourselves with two bags full, and left the rest for another day, or other helpers. Just a small salute to Earth Day 2014, but as a favorite saying goes, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little” (Edmunde Burke). And we really only got a little bit grimy.
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