Upland freshwater marsh, a stream, a pond, woods and one macadam road running through it. Everyone in town knows the Brook Street Preserve. At first glance, it looks idyllic, beautiful even, and it is.
You have to slow down and look a little closer before you see the mess.
As with any out-of-the-way wooded area in a busy suburb, the Suffolk County owned Brook Street preserve is a litter magnet.
It requires constant attention to keep clean. Brook Street has been the focus of Keep Islip Clean sponsored cleanup efforts for decades. Year in and year out, Spring and Fall, the cleanups continue. The Middle School ‘KIC’ team is the sponsor. There are lots of volunteers, official and unofficial. I pick at it throughout the year.
The cleanup date is April 18th, a Saturday, and I’m planning to join in. I’m also trying to drum up some more volunteers from the neighborhood to show up. This is not an easy thing to do, since Saturday mornings are busy times for all of us. But there are always the few reliable volunteers who come out for most of the cleanups, and you often get a neighbor or two who pop in to help. There are seldom a huge group of volunteers showing up, but in my experience there are always enough.
Or midpoint of any project is a good time to review. I envisioned this project as a ‘season’, not forever, so I took this late March evening to read my own blog entries. How embarrassed am I? Well, a little. It seems that, like most projects, this one started out pretty ambitiously and seems to have run somewhat aground. Here’s what I envisioned:
-Picking up lots of litter around my immediate neighborhood.
-Taking photos of it.
-Measuring, weighing and cataloging it.
-Blogging about it.
Noble goals, I know, but I have fallen short. The photographing and cataloging part has gone completely ‘out the window’, as it were. I’ve managed to keep picking up litter and blogging it. Perhaps the rest is fluff anyhow.
As I mentioned in another post, nobody wants to look at pictures of litter: pictures of litter are gross. Yes, they could help electrify and motivate people to do something about litter, but this isn’t a shock blog, and that’s not something that I want to overdo. The pictures will continue (with restraint), but no gross-outs. Sadly, if you want to look at garbage these days, you can visit almost any art gallery.
As for the tally sheets, I lost the will to keep tallying the same stuff every time I do some cleaning up. It’s always the same crap, everyone knows what’s out there, and there’s little real need for the data. It became: collect, bag up, bring home, weigh, dump out, measure, photograph, catalog, pick-up, rebag, dispose of; too much toil. Anyway, What it is right now is me toting the pickup stick while walking the neighborhood, dog in tow, and ‘picking it up’. Keeping it real I guess you could say, and that’s what counts.
As for this being the midpoint, yes, I’m going somewhere with that. The Month of April is The Great American Cleanup (it’s like the litter-picker’s holy month), there are cleanups ALL month, everywhere. I spent two hours at the office of Keep Islip Clean last week stuffing envelopes. The word is going out far and wide across the town (and the Nation and I suppose the whole planet) to gear up and get ready. The big push is coming, volunteers will work to banish the detritus of a bitter Winter. I’ll blog some of it, from my point of view.
But the bare fact of litter is that it’s all very basic and human: it’s banal.
If the annals of litter were ever written, they would probably describe the occasional litter kingpin (a contractor no doubt), who would roam the night streets looking for a good spot to offload the days demolition: but the real serial litterer is a much more ordinary person. In the end, it’s mostly carelessness, expediency, laziness and inadvertence that contribute to litter. The litterbug, if we were to paint a picture of him or her, is very ordinary; he drinks Budweiser from a can,
enjoys coffee from 7-11 and Dunkin Donuts,
likes those caffeinated energy drinks,
and eats a lot of drive through fast food.
He (and she) leaves the coupon weekly at the curb, likely because he’s not a clipper.
He fills the recycling can to overflowing,
and doesn’t take the time to tidy up after the bulk collectors take away the wreckage from that kitchen demolition.
All of which can add up to a pretty untidy community. Unless someone like me picks it up.
My ‘habit’ of picking up litter makes a lot of difference in how the area looks. I take pride in this, it is a civic good. But if I were to stop cleaning up, the tidiness of the neighborhood would quickly deteriorate. I’m only one person and I’ll be gone one of these days. I’m not alone; other people pick up litter, particularly at organized cleanup events. But I hope to inspire another person or two to start picking up litter as a habit – to take some day-to-day ownership of the neighborhood.
This is not an activity that comes naturally. Most adults wouldn’t readily pick up trash by the curb because it’s not something that we’ve been taught to do. It’s an oversight, really, in our civic upbringing. We didn’t learn this, most of us, in school and in the home – and that needs to be addressed. And it is being addressed. Most children are learning this type of civic behavior, this community responsibility, in school these days. That’s what this is all about in the end, promoting a sense of community, a sense of shared responsibility for our own little patch of the world.
I actually see a glimmer increased community mindedness among the adult residents of the area. This could be because I’m noticing more, because I’m looking for it. But maybe not. Maybe people are taking more ownership because of the example that is being set by civic beautification organizations like Keep Islip Clean, now twenty-five years old, and by the visible results of the cleanup efforts sponsored by them, by the grass roots cleanups that neighbors put together each Spring and Fall.
One neighbor plows the street with his truck even though he’s not contracted to do that by the town. Another neighbor rakes and sweeps the elderly persons curb and street area. Someone finally picks up a load of trash that got washed into the dead end by the epic rainstorms last summer. Flowers get planted in a public space. People start looking out for each other a little more.
On the other hand, some of the neighbors behave in ways that don’t help. Whether it’s the garbage can that’s left on the curb all the time and never brought back in, or the commercial business vehicle stored in the driveway, the unkempt rental property or the house with a car parked on the lawn – there are behaviors that detract from the beauty of the area.
Short of complaining to the town authorities, there’s nothing much that a resident can do about these sort of eyesores. Official complaints really ought to be a last resort because it’s not worth starting trouble over minor issues. In the end, the best offense is a good defense. Being a steward of the neighborhood, building a sense of community, leading by example.