13 April 2014

The Wisdom of Toads

Madeleine was officially initiated into the Great Toad Club Saturday morning.  The GTC was founded in 1959 in Ohio by my father-in-law, Mike, and some of his high school friends.  It was a club with "no special purpose" back in those days, but today it’s morphed into a do-good group.  Membership is free and available to anyone.  The only requirement these days is a dedication to help Mother Earth by doing Great Toad Deeds.  To that end, Madeleine and I donned our neon green GTC t-shirts, work gloves, and Day-Glo orange vests, and followed Mike and Judy out to the mile the GTC adopted about a dozen years ago, to pick up trash on the roadside.

It was a cool day, sunny with a light breeze.  We each gathered our tools:  a five-gallon bucket for trash, a plastic sack for recyclables, and one of those picker-upper tools to save our backs.  Mike and Judy headed east from their 1962 Corvair rampside truck while Madeleine and I headed west.  At first glance there wasn't a lot of trash, but it was enough to make the task necessary.  We walked along the road, picking up pieces of plastic, fast food trash, beer cans, and cigarette butts.  The sheer number of cigarette butts alarmed me – have we learned no lessons at all from last summer’s wildfires?  The roadside grasses are dry enough to catch from just a spark after a winter very short on precipitation, and fire would spread quickly with the slightest breeze. 

“Smokers are dumb times two,” Madeleine complained, dropping another butt into her bucket.  “Dumb to smoke and dumb to litter.”

The heavier our buckets became, the more frustrated and disappointed I felt.  Cleaning up after the human race does little to make me feel compassion for my fellow man, especially after I happened upon a pair of dessicated dead coyotes.  They were not road kill.  They lay side by side, in identical positions as if they’d been placed there a few weeks ago.  I began to develop a profile of the litter bugs of Yavapai County:  McDonald’s-eating, Marlboro-smoking, Coors-swigging coyote killers.  And I resented them.  A lot.

I thought back to my childhood days of TV watching:

Soon after finding the coyotes, I met up again with Mike, who shared that he’d discovered another pair of coyotes a couple hundred yards further down the road where he’d been.  A few years back, while cleaning up this roadside Judy had found several dead foxes.  The tails had been removed from each of the foxes, presumably as some sort of trophy.  I supposed we should feel grateful we haven’t yet stumbled upon anything worse than a few dead predators.

We continued down the road gathering the detritus of modern society.  In addition to the typical trash, cellphones, dollar bills, iPods, and clothing have been gathered on the GTC’s road cleaning adventures.  Plastic sacks waved like flags from bushes and barb wire.  We removed all of these items, carefully bagging them into heavy-duty bags when we were done.  We sorted the recyclables.  We removed and packed away our gloves and Day-Glo vests for the next time. 

Judy must have sensed my disappointment in the human race.  She told me that when she first began to clean up the road a dozen years ago, that she felt frustrated with her fellow planet dwellers.  But she learned to let it go.  She realized that holding onto that anger gave her a burden that really served no purpose at all except to make her even more resentful.  I thought about the starfish story I’ve heard so many times from motivational speakers in my occupation, and wondered if throwing a starfish back into the sea was anything akin to picking up cigarette butt after cigarette butt.

Later, though, I thought about what she said and I came to realize that there’s a great wisdom in it.  Despite the negative actions caused by the ignorance and apathy of others, she and Mike still make a positive difference.  Sure, they’ll need to come back in a few months to pick up litter again.  That story will not change.  But they’ll make a difference anyway. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Disheartening and affirming, the human race. Let me know next time, I'll toad with y'all! Xo me