"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Every Litter Bit Helps

Every Litter Bit Helps

I began my public speaking career today. I’m not too optimistic about its longevity, but I can tell you that the members of my audience were mighty doggoned impressed when I dumped 809 beans on the table in front of them. Fortunately by the time I did that, the young ladies who comprised my audience were finished with the chocolate birthday cake and popcorn, or I probably would have been talking to myself.

Rose had previously started the program by asking them, “Who knows what litter is?”

“Trash,” said Ashley, who lives across the highway from me and knew darn well why I was there in such a peculiar get-up.

“Where the cat goes to the bathroom,” said another. After that it took a while to restore order and proceed with the lesson. The girls were fine, still engrossed in birthday cake and on their third bag of microwave popcorn, but Rose and I were having trouble breathing because we were trying not to laugh out loud.

Rose spoke for a few minutes about litter—what it is, where it comes from—and asked for suggestions about how to prevent it. Then she introduced me, the so-called litter expert. First, I showed them some beautiful pictures I had taken alongside the Seward highway last summer. I had with me a large bag that I’d filled with roadside litter a few days before, so I opened it and held a photo of Tern Lake above the litter.

“Imagine,” I said, “You get out of the car, maybe to take a picture of the scenery, and you see all this litter at your feet.” The contents of the bag were easily recognizable as common items—beer bottles, paper, soda cups, plastic lids and straws, and so on. We talked about that and then I dumped the bag of beans on their table.

“Each one of these beans,” I told them, “represents a large yellow litter bag filled with trash picked up alongside the highway that runs through our town.” It took a while for that concept to sink in, and I had to reword it a couple time for my young audience, all five of them members of Brownie Troop 206 of the Girl Scouts. I explained that a number of volunteers from Moose Pass had cleaned fifty miles of highway last summer, resulting in 809 full bags.

I explained why I was wearing a bright orange safety vest, a small pack to carry extra bags and a bottle of water, good walking boots, and a sweat band that actually is to help keep my glasses from falling off when I bend over a zillion times a day picking up trash. Then I made my best move, one I think was an even bigger hit than the birthday cake. I gave each girl a big yellow litter bag. They immediately proceeded to fold the bags into tiny squares so they could take them home.

Later on, still trying to impress upon them how much trash it takes to fill 809 bags, I asked them to take a lima bean from the table and set it on the gym floor. Then, I said, unfold your yellow bag next to it. Silence. The volume was starting to be real for them.

”You couldn’t even get all those full bags in the gym,” said troop leader Rose. That might have been the wrong thing to say, because pretty soon a couple of the girls were rolling and sliding on the shiny gym floor. Rose and I were losing them. At their next meeting, Rose will have them make posters for a community clean-up day in May. “And,” she said, “I’m going to have you make phones calls to ask people to sign up to clean certain sections of the highway.”

About that time I noticed all the popcorn and birthday cake that had fallen to the floor under the table. Time to make my escape, I thought. I gathered up the beans on the floor and table, not being one to litter.

“What are you going to do with your yellow bags?” I asked as I walked towards the gym door.

“Fill them!” came a chorus of young voices.

I stopped on my way out to talk with Celiene, who has the custodian’s job at the school. She was holding a yellow litter bag and said she’d been picking up debris down her way. Judy, the school bus driver, had gotten some bags from me and had been out the day before, filling two bags.

As for my public speaking career? Well, I doubt I’ll be a must-hear on the international circuit. Probably won’t be called to the national circuit, or in my own neighborhood either. No, when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty, my public speaking career probably has run its course, which is fine with me. It leaves me more time to pick up litter. Which is what really matters—one person picking up litter, and every litter bit helps.


April 24, 2008 Gullible