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Friday, November 28, 2008

The Zen of Trash Pickup

This morning I got up early and looked outside. There was a large shattered bottle of Olde English 800 all over the curb at the edge of my house, plus an unbroken beer bottle lying a few feet away. It seemed like it was time to pick up trash. I grabbed a bag, put on a jacket and went out.

Since it got cold there's a lot less trash on the street. In some ways, that makes it more enticing to pick up, because it seems less fruitless a task. Still, the only way to approach picking up trash around here is with the same mentality of a Zen monk making a sand mandala--you have to remember it's about impermanence. The result just won't last very long.

The process of picking up trash is exactly the opposite process of making a sand mandala--instead of putting together something elaborate, you're taking away as much as you can to reveal what's underneath. It's shocking how calming it is to see a few dozen yards of bare ground after picking up chip bags, broken glass, sticks, plastic cups, trial size Scope bottles (somebody was hurting for a high), flyers and circulars, old McDonald's coffee cups, and even what appeared to be a frozen pork chop. OK, I didn't actually pick that up--I kicked it like a hockey puck into the alley next to a dumpster and called it good enough.

And of course, once I was done picking up trash along the block, I went back in the house for a bit, came back out and found a gum wrapper had already blown into the patch I cleared between my house and the corner. I picked it up and headed for the dumpster, decided I wanted things to stay pristine just a few minutes longer.

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