Saturday, March 13, 2010

Our Good Citizen

Yesterday while I was waiting for Prof to arrive for our early morning meeting, I stood at the railing of the 4th floor triangle in the College of Design and watched as people and vehicles maneuvered the walkways and streets to get to where they needed to be. It reminded me of a slowed-down version of time-lapse fotography that captures that herky-jerky motion of stop and start. The bus schedules, along with the framework of class schedules, pretty much guarantee an approximate time; not the hour so much as the minutes before or after the hour. This view from the top of the COD captures the choreography of our everyday lives here on campus.

I noticed a man walking along briskly as he crossed the street. He was dressed in khakis and what appeared to be a nice winter dress coat. At about the same time, a campus garbage truck caught my eye as it rounded the corner and headed east down Osbourne. Mid-way thru the turn, the truck's rear cavity faced into the wind and a single sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper swirled out into the air and landed in the intersection. The man jogged over, picked it up, and stashed it in one of those ubiquitous plastic bags we all carry home from the market. I thought it strange that he would dash into the busy traffic to snatch this refuse, so I watched as he continued on his way east. Within a second, he leaned over and retrieved another piece of litter revealing itself in a pile of dirty snow. He made 2 or 3 more swoops, gathering bits and pieces of trash, then cut across the street. He made his way along the south walk, bobbing here and there to reach for a scrap to stuff in his bag.

He obviously was not on staff here at the university to pick up litter; his briefcase and dress would indicate otherwise. Without knowing his story, I could only guess that he had taken it upon himself to clean up his world, one piece of trash at a time. Nothing odd about that. It got me to thinking that we should all be such good citizens.

Several mornings a week, Tess will drop me at the COD at 7:30 on her way to school. It gives me time to read or work on things in the quietude of the 5th floor grad studio. As I enter the building, the janitorial staff is cranking away cleaning and vacuuming before the day's onslaught. I have noticed over the last few months that the task of keeping the campus clean is overwhelming for these folks in light of the budget cuts. Their numbers were the first to take the hit when cost-cutting measures were enacted. The trash is oftentimes overflowing from outdoor receptacles, cigarette butts pile up in hidden outdoor corners of the buildings, and litter in general is everywhere. I know the end of winter is always abit shabby, and especially so this end of winter, but our campus has been carrying a scrubby look of unkemptness for awhile now.

Just that morning I picked up a sandwich wrapper blowing across my path. As I opened the doors to the COD, I noticed the sand, grit, and dried mud embedded in the brittle door mat and was now creeping into the building. With Spring Break commencing at 5 that afternoon, I entertained a silent thought of a 'gorilla vacuuming' stunt with my industrial-strength shop vac. I would target the front entry directly inside and out of the COD. A cleaning up of a space, kind of like Iowa's Roadside Clean-up Program where a service organization or club "adopt" a portion of the roadway to keep clean. Later, when I saw this man cleaning up his walk into work, I knew I wasn't so off in my guerrilla-stunt thinking.

This all really speaks to the issue of how we live on this landscape. A much simpler approach for all of us to take would be to think about how we move thru our everyday lives leaving behind that litter trail for others to clean up. If everyone of us carried and used that plastic bag as we criss-crossed campus, we could make a huge impact on the care and keeping of our landscape.

Some basic rules of occupation of a space....first and foremost, don't litter! Replace that plastic bag with a re-usable tote. Pick up after yourself. Pick up one piece of litter today. Two pieces tomorrow. Maybe 3 or 4 or more the next day. 20,000 students and a whole regimen of faculty and staff would constitute an entire army of litter-picker-uppers. We could all be good citizens.

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