Picking up garbage


If you’ve been following along on my blog for years (and if you haven’t, well, why not?) then you will know that before Fred and I bought our house in Tacoma, we lived on the outskirts of a small town called Roy. We have a pocket farm, less than five acres, much of it rather boggy in winter. We have chickens, geese, ducks and a garden and fruit trees. We produce a lot more food than even our extended family can eat, but we always find someone who wants some patty-pan squash or a dozen eggs.

Recently we had the opportunity to buy the place next to ours. This is a big deal, because our old house was built within about 5 feet of the property line. And the place next to us is nearly ten acres, four of it in beautiful pasture that is arable. The house is little more than a cottage, a place cobbled together by marrying up two hunting cabins. It had been in their extended family over well over 30 years.


The place had fallen on hard times. A succession of people had lived there, which meant there was layer upon layer of possession in, around and under the house. Under the trees. In a container van in the middle of the pasture. In and around the little tool shed. They emptied out the house into the yard. Literally. It took quite a while for the residents to move out and when they did, anything they didn’t want was left behind.

Fred and I are on our 2nd 30 yard dumpster, and it’s nearly full. It doesn’t include the wood that we sorted to one side for a friend who heats with wood. It doesn’t include the three runs I’m made with a car full of stuff to take to the Goodwill. It doesn’t include the 50 partial cans of paint and unknown liquids I will transport to the hazardous waste disposal site. It does not include the large pile of scrap metal we’ve amassed to sell to the scrapper. (Fred and I used to demolish and scrap for income. Once upon a time, we were Desperado Hauling. We’d haul away derelict cars, old stoves, you name it. Anything with scrap value. But I digress.)

The piles outside the house were puzzling. If I took a cardboard box, walked into a room, and put 15 random items into the box, that would describe it. Plastic pieces of a toy, a half full shampoo bottle, socks with no matches, old wrapping paper, some underwear, and a china cup. All in one box. Damp and mouldering children’s books made me sad. Plastic sacks of fabric that mice had colonized. So much that could have been donated instead of hoarded.

The sodden heaps of stuff out in the field were worse. Take panes of glass. Inter-stack them with cardboard. Set them on a wooden pallet and allow it to rot into the ground. Run over it. Someone else will clean it up. Or take a plastic bucket, fill it with broken bottles and glass, and set it out for the sun to degrade the plastic. Rain water fills up the bucket. Freeze, thaw. I tried to pick up the bucket. It broke into pieces and cascaded the glass into the tall weeds. Pick it up. Pick it all up so I don’t have to take dogs to the vet or barefoot kids to the ER. Make a mental note to never plant potatoes there or anything I take from the earth with my bared hands.

We knew we had to do cleanup on the place. I never guessed the scale of the clean up.

I thought we were nearly finished yesterday. We closed the end doors on the dumpster. We’ve reached that labor intensive stage where we load the bucket of the tractor, lift it high, and I get to climb onto the bucket and throw the garbage over the side into the dumpster to top it off. But we’d cleared the visible garbage piles.

All we had left were the big piles of old lumber and scrap wood and brush. One of the residents had taken money and allowed a small contractor to dump ‘biodegradable’ stuff on the pasture. Anyone who has ever created a pasture, cleared land of stones and weeds and roots, is now weeping for me, I am sure. A beautiful pasture, with most of an acre heaped with scrap wood, brush and . . . oh dear. That is not biodegradable. That is an old car battery. And a plastic bag of garbage. Well, it was a bag. Animals have torn it open and the garbage must now be picked up, one piece at a time. And blackberries have grown over it.

So. A wave of discouragement hit me today. I have to remind myself that it’s a finite task. I cannot finish it today, or in a week or a month. But it is finite. One piece of plastic, one handful of broken glass, one smelly torn bag of old garbage, I can and I will gather it up and dispose of it properly. And no one will ever treat this land so horribly again.



Now some of you may ask, “What about that book you are so late turning in?”

You cannot imagine how inspirational it is to say to myself, “Work on the book, or pick up garbage. Hm.”

When I get stuck and can’t think of the next sentence, I have to go outside and pick up trash. Amazing how quickly that next sentence can come to me!

When the place is cleaned up and I can feel proud of it, I’ll share some ‘after’ photos here. The hope is that this place becomes, eventually, a guest cottage for visiting writers, wandering musicians and guest senseis from across the water.

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