Down at the creek

cheetos2On Martin Luther King’s Birthday, (also the first national day of community service) and with a fair degree of grumbling, my daughter and I put on our rattiest clothes, grabbed a large Hefty garbage bag and two pair of gloves, and headed for the nearest creek; a three-minute drive from our home. (Yes, we could have walked.)

Just outside two bone-dry culverts, amid the creek grasses and cattails there was a miscellany of trash: water bottles, candy wrappers, tennis balls, softballs (there’s a school nearby), a flip-flop and a Strawberry Shortcake sandal, and enough plastic bags to choke an industrial-size trash compactor.

“Hey, Mom!” my daughter called from across the creek bed. “Let’s fill the bag to the brim and then we’ll be done.” 

Like me, she was already wondering how much community service was enough. She had a new book to read–her first long chapter book–and I was recovering from gum surgery. 

“Sounds good, sweetie,”  I said, dropping an Almond Joy wrapper into the Hefty bag. 

My daughter found it inconceivable that people just toss their trash to the wind.  “Just imagine,” she said, pointing to a mound of algae-speckled water bottles. “There’s an island of those floating in the ocean.” 

People who buy single-use water bottles and Cheetos are the real litterbugs. The occasional ball is forgiveable, lost shoes accidental: a child chucks her sandal into the creek to prove she’s really in charge,  a mother fails to notice one of her flip-flops has fallen out of her backpack on her way home from the swimming pool. 

While we’re working, a man in an official looking truck drove across the bridge over the culverts. We saw him again, coming the other way and looking at us. Suspecting he worked for the city, I imagined him calling the local paper to tell a reporter about the mom and daughter doing a good deed for the planet. A picture of us on the front page, with the caption “Do-gooders clean up the creek.”  I laughed at myself for wanting credit for keeping my own community clean. 

My daughter had a different reaction to the man in the truck.  “Are we going to get in trouble?” We were doing something out of the ordinary, standing in a dry creek and (actually) having fun. We must have been breaking some law.

By the time we’d filled the bag, most of that part of the creek bed was clean. I wished we had another bag; leaving even a little bit of trash felt wrong.

And because nothing is simple these days, we faced a dilemma: What to do with all those recyclable plastic bottles? Do I sift through the dirty diapers (okay, there was only one), styrofoam toys, and grimy shreds of plastic? 

In the interest of transparency, I must tell you I took the lazy man’s way out. Dumped the whole bag in an empty dumpster.  Felt guilty, then let it go because on that day it was the best I could do. Then we headed home to curl up in bed, and read.

“That was fun, Mom,” my daughter said as we were getting into the car.

“Yeah, honey, it was.”



  1. david said

    You guys rock! Wish I could have been there to help.

    lots a love,

    Uncle D

  2. Marianne Gates said

    My girls and I missed the first annual community clean-up day, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. But we will be sure to participate from here on in. You’ve inspired me. Thank you.
    Love, Marianne

  3. Now I don’t feel so alone about going through our trash can, all our home waste baskets, and yes, the kitchen garbage pulling out the paper and recycleable plastic for the recycle bin…every week.

  4. lwdoyle said

    Every bit counts. It’s got to.

  5. Chana Keefer said

    Hooray for you guys! We of the Keefer household applaud you. We have a dry river wash across from our neighborhood where people dump stuff all the time. It’s so frustrating to see a whole new pile of everything from toilets to sofas just show up overnight. Every little bit helps but I would love to commission several dump trucks to just roll in and grab all of it.

    Your daughter will never forget the feeling of doing what’s right.

    Chana K.

  6. lwdoyle said

    Toilets and sofas? Wow!

  7. Mark said

    Way to go you guys! Miss you all!


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