Yesterday, it was hot in the East Bay, another Spare-the-Air day, drive only if necessary, no fires, no barbeque, think about the earth, for goodness sake, think about it . . . and so I walked in the park near the lake because of its proximity and because of the cool that rises from the waters. I walked across the green grass and through the children's playground. I love to hear them laugh; that sound triggers pleasant memories of my own children clambering happily over the geodesic dome in Washington Square Park before it was identified as too risky for child's play and removed. It was tall, true . . . much higher than any contemporary play structures, fifteen sixteen feet (maybe more) at its peak, but that height was exactly what made it so exhilarating. Even small kids could could manage to climb upwards from bar to bar and reach the top. How happy they were to climb higher than high where they could sit with only air beneath and survey the parklands below . . . as happy as I had been as a child atop tall trees swaying in a wind combing field grasses until they shifted gold against the sun. Kids need the sky.
These children in yesterday's park had no such soaring structure to climb, but nonetheless they were making their own fun, challenging boundaries, finding ways to color outside the lines. They raced about on the flat ground chasing the geese, always grazing nearby, but the fun of watching those birds pop from the ground with wings outspread soon fizzled out. One boy, maybe five-years-old, tired of the geese waddle, found a new game, a new border to be crossed. He began kicking at the garbage can placed near the playground as a receptacle for candy wrappers, old newspapers, and water bottles. As the can was really a tall open-mouthed quite biodegradable cardboard box and quite light-weight, he soon discovered that even though that box was almost as tall as he was, he could easily move it about. He began to kick at it with a ferocity that made it slide speedily across the grass. It seemed as if he were determined to tip it over. I waited for a parent to say something, but all was silence. Finally, one heavy kick did indeed tip the garbage 'can' on its side and the contents spilled onto the grass and began blowing about. Then, a new game; they all began kicking the trash.
I waited -- again -- expecting parental intervention, but when nothing happened twice (very Beckettian), I stopped. I looked at the boy, and said not unkindly Now that you have emptied the trashcan, please pick up the trash. Then, it happened. The same words -- again -- different (and younger) voice.
He stopped kicking, looked solemnly at me, tipped his head to one side, and said I don't touch trash. The same words but spoken by a much younger child. Something inside me slumped.
I don't touch trash.
But trash touches us all. The boy's father finally appeared,began to pick up the blowing trash, told his son that throwing trash about was not the thing to do, but I don't think he meant it. His voice drowned in the word. It was all too much. Spare the Air, spare the lake, spare the ground. Spare us all.
This morning, I slipped on my vinyl gloves and went out on the street to greet the day by picking up trash, bagging it, and slipping the filled bags into concrete garbage cans provided by the city, cans that are unspillable but too easily filled. In less than thirty minutes, I filled two bags with trash -- empty potato chip bags, candy wrappers, cigarette boxes, newspaper bits, coffee cups, jello cups, and plastic spoons -- and the crossing guard spoke to me for the first time in nearly eight weeks. Thank you, he said. It's a small thing, I said. Then, he told me a story about sweeping the front walk of his childhood home, sweeping with such ferocity that anyone passing by would have thought a dust devil had zipped down from the heavens above but it was only him and his broom. One day, he said, when he was sweeping, he saw an acorn roll tipsy turvy on the walk. He picked it out of the dust pile and planted it at the back of the house. Ten years later that acorn was a tree.
I like small things. I adore kids, love seeds, and stories that spiral skyward like bees that transform to hawks.