We have a ritual, up here in the Northland, that perhaps you share in your own communities. It’s called “Spring Cleanup,” and it’s basically one week each spring where the city invites the citizens to go through their homes and backyards and identify the junk they no longer want, and then place those items on the curb in front of their house. It really is a beautiful sight, to see the worst of someone’s home set out before the entire community. What happens next is that the brave members of the sanitation department, in addition to picking up the trash in the trash cans, and the recyclables in the recyclables trash cans, and the yard waste and branches, spend the week throwing a fourth category of garbage into huge trucks to be carted off to the landfill. It’s one of those special times of the year.
This year, however, for some reason when the coronavirus hit, the city decided to postpone spring cleanup. I have to tell you that I’m not sure the purpose behind the postponement. Maybe they thought the virus would be on all the garbage people had, or maybe it was a nice opportunity to take the week off. We were all shut down for a number of months, but the sanitation department still picked up the garbage each week. It’s a puzzler, sort of like locking down one of the entrances to Walmart, so that… you could cram everyone even closer together by making them all go in one set of doors? The pandemic has been a mysterious and curious time. The school administration, after having the junior and senior high schools all open with face-to-face classes for three weeks just announced that they are going to switch to distance learning for the upper grades – for two weeks. And it will begin two weeks from now. Now, I know that “why” is that question answered in any case, but it is really hard not to ask why in these situations…
So anyway, the city decided that the Spring cleanup would happen in the Fall. That makes sense. Sort of. The word filtered through the community, and everyone was encouraged to put their junk out on the curb on the day their trash was going to be normally picked up. Except – what wasn’t broadcasted was that, for some reason, we wouldn’t have Fall Cleanup Week. Instead, we would have Fall Cleanup Weeks! Yes indeed – Somehow, the pandemic meant that everyone had twice as much garbage as last year? I don’t know, but hidden on the website of the sanitation department was the master plan and map, dividing everyone into either “A” or “B” week – kind of like dividing the classes at the elementary school. Our neighborhood ended up as a “week B” pickup time.
Unfortunately, many, many, many people did not get the “A or B” memo, and so last week, when the Spring, Now Fall Cleanup extravaganza began, lots of folks in our neighborhood hauled out the piles of garbage and dutifully put them on the curb – a week early. I must say that the landscape of the neighborhood has changed over the last two weeks, as the garbage sat in the sun, and then the rain, and had to be mowed around, or if placed on the driveway, driven around. At least we got away from the sight of boring old neat and tidy front yards.
Two observations: First, it is always amazing each year to see what people throw out. From the looks of things, no one has any living room furniture left, or light fixtures, or toilets for that matter! It looks like they have given up mowing, or the edging of sidewalks, and certainly, in our neighborhood at least, more than 75% of the homes are committed to no longer grilling, as dozens and dozens of gas grills are on the curb, in a variety of states. People are also sleeping on the floor, I guess, since mattresses and box springs are spread out by the street. No one is going to celebrate Christmas this year, since dozens of Christmas trees with garland on them stand ready to be chucked in the back of the truck. There is also a huge amount of – I guess it’s just plain junk, without form or substance – that people have lovingly kept safe in their basements or on back patios. It’s just remarkable.
The second observation is to watch as the vultures and hyenas descend on a neighborhood. Part of the game of cleanup week is that indeed, one person’s trash is another person’s – well, it’s still trash, but they see it as treasure. Did you know it’s not illegal to go through someone’s trash pile as it sits on the curb? Apparently that’s part of the festivities of Cleanup Week. We have watched (for two weeks now), as vehicles of a variety of makes and styles, but all strangers to our development drive ever so slowly, peering at the piles of junk, and now and then stopping, so that a passenger can leap out, rummage through the precious items, and often pull out something that they want to keep, or to own as their own for the first time. I guess it’s an informal way of recycling, and if they can use it, go ahead. The only problem of course, is that while the vultures are rummaging through the items, they have no concern about the structure of the piles out of which they pull things, and so after their time, and they have driven off, usually the landscape looks worse than it did!
Now I have to admit that sometimes, some really good stuff is thrown out. I will even admit that two years ago – in the Spring – I was driving home, and looked at a pile of stuff to my right, and there, perched on the top of the pile, was what looked to be a late-19th century mantel clock! Being the antique collector that I am, I slammed on the brakes, got out, looked at it, and put it in the back seat, all the while looking around as if it were a police sting in process. When I got it home, indeed it was overwound, but fixable, and it included both the counterweight and the key! Somebody must have awakened that morning and thought, “Dang it! I need to be more mid-20th century, perhaps Danish influence – that clock has to go!” So it has a new home, on our mantel.
The cleanup crew just went by – huge dump trucks, small scoops, even a large Caterpillar with a giant front grabber. It’s all quiet now – the curbs are clean, the trash is gone, at least until next Spring, or Fall, or sometime, and life goes on.
We live in interesting times, of changing times. I remember when I was little, going to visit my grandparents in Omaha, that in the mid-60s in their backyard, they had a large barrel where they, like all their neighbors, burned their trash. Now we have it hauled away. I don’t know how long this yearly celebration will continue, but it’s for now, and who we are, at least in this community.
I think it’s important to be aware, and realize what the rituals and celebrations of our lives happen to be, where we live. In some ways they help to mark the season, and in other ways, they are simply curious or interesting things that we humans do. Never assume something is just normal – it’s only accepted where we find our homes, but it’s always special, and unique, even if it only involves picking up trash. As our eyes are open to the unique, or what could be so, our lives lighten up, and we find the reason to celebrate life each day. Have fun finding your own special part of life.
Word for the day: cainotophobia. Pronounced kay-no-toe-PHO-bya, it finds it’s roots in the Greek, kainos, meaning “new” and of course our old friend phobia, which means “fear.” Cainotophobia is the neurotic fear of newness, or specifically change. I may have some of that – I mean, I hate it when every time I go to buy shampoo, they have changed the ingredients and even the bottle, so I can’t simply get what I once got. Maybe not so much fear, as annoyance. The fact is, we are living in an era of radical change. Some experts cite that in 1900, the totality of human knowledge doubled every 100 years. It is possible, with the internet, that today, all knowledge is doubling every 12 hours! In his book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler talks about the difficulty of most humans, not to change, but to keep up with the change in the rate of change. That means we more likely to see something new, than something we are used to. So much for Christmas fruitcake…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.