This I Believe

Margo - Medford Lakes, New Jersey
Entered on March 29, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe that one person can make a small section of the world a slightly better, or at least a cleaner, place.

At my father’s memorial service, we invited people to share their memories of him. A fellow teacher stood up. She spoke about how she and my dad often had lunchroom duty together, and how he’d pick up the trash the kids had left behind even though it was “the janitors’ job.” To do nothing, while the mess just sat there, was not an option for him. This teacher explained how she then felt compelled to pick up after the kids, too. After all, how could she just stand there doing nothing while her colleague cleaned up?

I love to canoe, but seeing trash in the water bugs me. It must be hereditary. When I see it, I have to pick it up. One day I saved a greenish plastic basket from the river. It fit perfectly in the aft section of the boat. Now it stores whatever junk I collect while paddling.

Sometimes picking up stuff from the water can be challenging. In flooded conditions it’s easy to come dangerously close to becoming a casualty of the swifter than usual current, swirling eddies, and fallen trees. There are times, though, when retrieving trash provides a welcome break from my battle to paddle upstream.

Garbage picking on the open water is another matter. When out on the bays or ocean, I paddle my one-person outrigger canoe. There’s no stowage on an outrigger. Out on open water, strong winds and currents also add to the challenge of trash grabbing. “I WILL get that piece of garbage” becomes my mantra. Like a fisherman with a prize fish on the line, I work my way to the offending piece of flotsam. If it’s especially windy, it might take a few tries and changes of strategy. Eventually, I get it.

One exceptionally windy day, on the Barnegat Bay of New Jersey, I got my prize after only two attempts. It was a big plastic bottle, looking ugly and unnatural as it bobbed on the water. After a few tries, it was mine. But now what was I going to do with it?

I paddled around with it between my knees for a while, in the middle of the bay on a busy summer weekend. There were plenty of boats around. I waved one down. Fantastic! The guy saw me—most boaters will come to your aid if you flag them down. People look out for one another on the water, most of the time. The guy came over to me, and asked if he could help. I asked him if he had room for some trash. He did. It took a couple of tries, but eventually the bottle landed in the boat. That section of the bay looked much better for what turned into a team effort, all for one bottle. I know that bottle would have bugged my dad, too.