Those of us who live in the northern climates glorify in the passing of winter into spring.   Evengutter garbagecold weather enthusiasts such as myself can’t help but feel a thrill when waking to the energetic chirping of the birds that have been huddling in abeyance for months, and enjoy the return of daylight to our early morning routines.  No longer is going out without a hat or scarf tempting fate – now even a jacket is purely an individual’s fashion choice.  Seeing the grass burst forth in resplendent green and smelling the good earth rather than simply enjoying the sharpness of the cold air brings a kind of seasonal relaxation – we can finally let down our guard against the frigid elements.  We made it, we survived. But there’s a seedier aspect to the coming of spring in the city.  It’s not the lingering crust of dirt and silt along the street curbs, nor the suddenly burgeoning potholes that threaten suspensions and patience.  It’s not even the irritating intrusion of the thumper cars that accompany any surge in temperature.  It’s the disgusting upswing in trash that suddenly dots the urban landscape, a humiliating testament of the callousness of our throwaway society. In the winter, especially a winter that was as cold and treacherous as the one just past, folks generally venture outside merely to make their way from one place to another.  They do not linger outdoors, and if they do, it’s bundled up and closed in, swaddled in coats and headgear and gloves, or hands sunk deep into pockets, retreating as deeply into coverings as possible.  There is little hanging out curbside being done, or meandering down residential blocks – people scuttle rather than meander.  Newspapers are not casually read on porches or park benches or at bus stops, snacks are not consumed in transit; only cigarette butts are left behind like perverse breadcrumbs marking movement across the cityscape. But now that the thermometer reads consistently in the “ah, yes!” range, the trash is returning.  Since fingers no longer freeze in the open air, snack bags of chips are again being consumed between bus stop and apartment building, and the empty bag mindlessly dropped.  Candy wrappers, plastic bags, cardboard coffee cups, loose advertising flyers and drink bottles – both plastic and glass – again have started to litter the curbs and sidewalks. Now, I’ve lived in the city long enough to know that not every scrap of trash that ends up in front of my house comes from wanton recklessness.   Garbage pickup days always leave at least some trail of waste behind because of overstuffed, unsecured (or unused) garbage bags, and scavenging wildlife unconcernedly chews into and scatters packaging in search of a quick meal from our excess.  Blown garbage finds easier purchase in the open landscape, and more people out and about are bound to add to accidental messing.  But the shiny Nitro Takis bag lying casually on my sidewalk and the sodden McDonalds bag with accompanying drink cup stuck at the base of the tree on my boulevard did not blow in from an errant trash collection – they were simply abandoned there by an uncaring neighbor. Yes, a neighbor.  Maybe not the person who lives next door or across the street, but someone who lives close by.  I could go the easy route and blame it on kids getting home from school (or let’s face it – from wherever they are coming from), and yes, a lot of it, especially the candy wrappers and chip bags, comes from youngsters; I’ve seen them, time after time, simply dropping garbage when they’re done consuming whatever is inside.  But kids learn from their elders, and the beer bottles, left en masse curbside, are not to be blamed on the young.  Nor is the plastic wrap that held some type of home improvement material which is lodged along the fence bordering my neighbor’s house and the fixer-upper rented house next to it.  The Slurpee cup laying in the ditch came from a car’s passenger, not a kid coming back from the corner store. It’s not that my inner city neighborhood is a cesspool – or at least not all of it.  Most of us, whether we like it or not, will keep the sidewalks and boulevards in front of our houses pretty much free of trash (even though many will leave it for days before capitulating – what, do we think whoever dropped the Cheetos bag will eventually come back and dispose of it properly, or that the guys who were hanging around the black SUV will have a change of heart and clean up their Corona bottles before the glass gets smashed by bored kids?)  But yes, there are a few “problem” properties – houses where, during the winter, the occupants manage to shovel from their front doors to the street but not their sidewalks, leaving others to trudge through the snowdrifts and allowing the frozen drudge to turn icy and treacherous.  These same properties already have more than their share of garbage littering their yards and lining the curbs:  juice boxes, unwanted flyers, broken bits of toys, moldy newspapers, empty cigarette packs, bottle tops.  This patina of trash reflects the people inside; uncaring, irresponsible folks who will go through their entire lives expecting others to pick up after them and complaining loudly at any perceived slight to their what?  Their dignity?  They label themselves by how they surround themselves: garbage in, garbage out. So what can be done about all this waste and garbage?  What can one person do?  It’s pretty simple, actually.  Lead by example.  Pick up your own trash, or trash left by those for whom you are responsible, whether it be manufactured, organic, or fecal (meaning, don’t leave your dog poop in someone else’s yard or boulevard or sidewalk, fer cryin’ out loud!).  Keep your own property clean and pick up any trash left behind so that your area appears cared for.  Extend the favor to your neighbors.  Call landlords and complain about trash left on their rental property.  Do not hesitate to contact city inspectors if there is a health hazard.  Get to know your neighbors, interact with others around you, and let them know you care. And be obvious.  I openly pick up trash around my house often, and always have a small garbage bag on my porch specifically for what I pick up by my fence, on the boulevard, in the street.  I sometimes carry a plastic bag with me as I walk my dog specifically for picking up trash during our jaunt, and almost always pick up bottles left on the sidewalk whenever I see them, as they will invariably be broken if laying there too long, creating a very real danger.  (If a child’s bare foot later in the season gets cut on old, broken glass, the person who threw the bottle by the side of the street won’t suffer a bit for it.)  Plus, I make it a point to always carry leftover plastic bags in my pocket so when I walk my dog, I’m ready to pick up after her (and I don’t just throw a used bag in the alley, either – I bring it home and dispose of it responsibly). Spring is a time of transformation, of reawakening, of rebirth.  Sometimes it’s messy, yes.  But in our commercialistic, waste ridden society, it still need not be trashy.  Each of us can do a little something to make spring about bird calls and greening and freshness, not garbage and crap left behind.  This spring, I hope to make my corner of the world a little more about robins, and a little less about rubbish; noticed for its tulips, not its trash.  It’s the least I can do to be a vital part of my little urban community.

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