Saturday, April 30, 2005

Cleaning Up Chuck

Today was Earth Day in Waltham, and time for the yearly spring cleaning of the filthy, litter-strewn Charles riverbank. I pried myself out of bed into a gray day that promised rain, full of reluctance and excuses -- I did it last year, it's someone else's turn this year, what about that little twinge I felt yesterday in my left shoulder, maybe I shouldn't risk it, I'm an old codger after all, let the young 'uns do it, plus it's going to rain....

I raised my left arm. No twinge. No haler joint ever moved. The granny routine was not washing. I'd have to stop playing the gray hair card. I'm not that old, after all. And the forecast said the serious rain would hold off until the afternoon. So I had no excuse. Not really.

What kind of schmuck would bitch so vocally about the river trash and then not lift a finger to clean it up ? Plus I wanted to give something back to the river that has been so gracious to me. So it was settled. I'd go.

Last year the river was crawling with volunteers. We were practically fighting over the trash -- hey, that's MY Doritos Bag -- I saw it first ! It was as if a swarm of trash-eating locusts had descended on the riverwalk and stripped it clean. There were even boats to get the offshore detritus. Today there were way fewer. And no boats. Nonetheless, we each got our allotment of trash bags and plunged in.

There was a Rubik's cube floating in the bilge under the trestle. Near a neatly capped insulin syringe and a styrofoam take-out container. We crawled through muck and bramble, eyes alert not for the red or yellow flash of a bird, or the subtle white or purple of early wildflowers, but for bright plastic. I made note of a stand of four-petaled yellow flowers and horsetails that I'd have to revisit avec camera, and some beautiful red seedpods like these

that I hoped would survive the afternoon rain so I could photograph them tomorrow.

And, once again, at morning's end, just as the fitful drizzle became rain, the river was restored. Not completely, but palpably. I trudged out of the woods near the end of the path with the last of my bags. I'd just packed up the soggy pile of discarded clothing that I'd photographed several times. A municipal truck laden with trash bags was parked on the narrow macadam. I handed over my bag.

"Are you just about wrapping up ?" the driver asked.

"Yup," I answered. I looked around. The path was deserted. "I think I'm the last one."

There was more trash. I'd hoped the river hermit's camp -- abandoned for the past twelve months, the tent gone, the suitcases still disgorging dirty, soggy clothes -- would get cleaned up this year. But no.

I couldn't face the river hermit's abandoned midden alone. It was raining. I was mud-soaked to the skin. My white canvas shoes were black by now and full of water. I was probably incubating poison ivy, lyme disease, tetanus and hepatitis. Sporotrichosis from Rosa Multiflora. But my shoulder felt great. I headed down the clean path back toward my car. The meadow was lush and green with grass and clover. A brilliant, little yellow bird flittered through the witch hazel.

I crossed the footbridge. The trashfield beneath was gone. Soon arum, pickerelweed and waterlilies would bloom out of the rich, black mud.

Across the bridge, I turned and faced the river. I looked around. After a cyclist passed, I was alone. I felt silly, self-conscious, but I had to do it. I had to punctuate this cleansing of peccata mundi, this purification, with some kind of gesture. Too shy to prostrate myself on the sidewalk, I settled for a furtive, joyous, riverward gassho.

There is no ground
holier than this.

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