• Be a good road steward
    May 07,2014

    Green Up Day 2014 is over, and thousands of miles of Vermont roads are now litter-free. Or at least they were Saturday.

    But what about the rest of the year? Anyone nasty enough to use a road as a dump is hardly polite enough to wait until the day before the next Green Up Day before littering again. Dumpers tend to dump year-round. How do we keep our roads clean after Green Up Day?

    One answer is that more of us can become what many Vermonters already are: road stewards.

    Road stewards pick up trash not only on Green Up Day but all year long. Some police only the road on which they live; others go farther afield. Still others pick up trash (at least occasionally) wherever they see it.

    Two older women I know like to take long walks. Whenever they spy a piece of litter, they put it in the little plastic shopping bag they carry with them. They pride themselves for doing two things — getting exercise while creating a mile or 2 of litter-free roadsides.

    I live on the Hazens Notch Road, a lightly traveled dirt road in Montgomery. I rarely get around to take a walk, but every Sunday I have a ritual: As I drive downtown to get the newspaper, I go slowly enough so that, whenever I see a beer can or other debris, I can easily pull over, get out, pick it up and throw it in a bag. When I get home, 3 miles of roadside are free of any trash I can see from my car windows. And that happy result adds no more than 15 minutes to my trip.

    We could, of course, replace road stewards with state and local highway crews. Road stewards are hyper-efficient because they multitask. They also receive nonmonetary compensation. And not just the warm feelings that come from doing good deeds. A piece of litter is what landscape designers like me call a “negative focal point” — it grabs your attention and, all by itself, ruins an entire view. Simply by removing it, you can almost instantly restore the whole scene.

    Making beauty — or at least ending ugliness — is rarely so easy or so economical.

    Like many road stewards, I try to pick up trash not just on Sunday mornings but whenever I see it. Sometimes, however, I’m too busy to stop. I tell myself I’ll stop later.

    But later, the trash is gone. What happened? The wind may have blown it into the woods. An animal (wild or domestic) may have gotten it. Or maybe — as I like to think — one of my neighbors picked it up instead.

    Then I also imagine that my neighbors and I live in — of all things — a state of grace, not only because we are privileged to live in one of the prettiest places on Earth, but because we are wise enough to know that we are part of an unspoken social compact: Each of us knows that our home is not only our house or our land, but nothing less than all the space we inhabit.

    We know that our mountain road is as much our home as our living rooms. We are also wise enough to know that, if we all act as if our common road is also our common home, then it will be light work for all of us to take care of it: that if we all act as if what we imagine were true, then we make it true.

    Robert Gillmore is a writer who lives in Montgomery.

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