Cleaning ditches causes b…., well, you know

There’s a little tradition that we have in rural America that I think is relatively unique to our small-town existence. It is the tradition of cleaning the ditches…twice a year civic groups, church groups, youth groups, etc., trudge through the ditches of our major highways, picking up the things that someone thoughtlessly or accidentally sent out a car window as they were traveling.

Now if you have ever done this, you know what an adventure it is. You have your giant garbage bag which is so large it trails out behind you, your gloves that will hopefully withstand anything up to and including Superman’s x-ray eyes, and sharp vision, ready to sort out those semi-decomposed pizza boxes hiding in the weeds.

It is my firm belief that beer and soda pop companies should be required to package their beverages in loud, patterned cans so they are easily discernible in the grass. As I’m staggering along, I sometimes don’t see those cans or bottles because their general makeup camouflages them. And there are some people out there who should seriously think about joining the baseball major leagues, because from a moving vehicle, they managed to pitch some of those things quite a distance. I rescued a number of them from the fence line on the far side of the ditch. I’d be impressed..except I probably shouldn’t be impressed by the people who throw their trash out the windows.

It’s true that you just never know what you might find. Last night’s haul included a lot of pizza boxes, a disquieting number of beer cans, some huge pieces of corrugated cardboard that didn’t want to fit in my bag and a number of latex gloves which were designed to cover not just the hand, but the whole arm; like something a woman might wear with a formal. I’m sure there’s a legitimate purpose to those gloves, but my imagination is working overtime on what they might have been protecting the hand and arm from. Needless to say, I handled those with the all the delicacy of a box of nitro-glycerin! The most exciting thing I found was a small calendar with a nude man decorating the top. And there was I, wondering what I was going to hang in that little nook in my hallway!

Things we are picking up are only half the fun. That mile and a half walk on uneven ground, through long grass which feels like sand or snow drifts is always fun. I like to think I’m fairly attuned to walking, but after ditch cleaning, I’m always humbled. The grass and sloping ground is hard enough, but add to that the fact that there are many holes dug by some animal or another, which make the possibility of shoving your foot down one and twisting an ankle very exciting. I have to admit to you that by the time I have drug through those ditches, I am so tired, that I sincerely believe that I would not notice a dead body lying in the weeds unless I trod directly upon it…and then I’d be too tired to put it in my sack!

Besides the trash in the ditches, there is always the adventure of the critters who actually live there. Nothing is such a thrill as picking up  a piece of plastic or cardboard only to uncover the snake or mouse that is living under it. They are understandably outraged by the disturbance and they are also not too crazy about the shrieking and stomping around that I do!

Ditch cleaning is over for the spring and in truth, I’m happy to do what I can to increase our environmental beauty. All that’s left for me now is to decide what to do with the trash. I mean, I know that the majority should just hit the dump, but I DID find a cigarette pack with four cigarettes in it. I mean, it IS finders keepers, right?


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