52 Pick-up

Sunday was one of those Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears kind of September days—not too hot, not too cold. Just right. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the air had a crisp edge and there was a pleasant breeze. Perfect weather for combining exercise with a fun outing—a mile-and-a-half walk to the annual fall arts-and-crafts street festival in my hometown.

chalk heartAl and I set out around 2:30 with a goal of finding a wedding present for some young friends who are getting married next month. As we walked along shaded streets, he noticed a plastic strap, the kind that binds packing boxes, lying near the curb. He picked it up.

“Please don’t collect any more litter until we’re on our way back,” I said.

“I have a halo,” he said, placing the packing strap around his baseball cap. I had to laugh. We continued on our way.

Al makes a habit of cleaning up litter wherever we go. This used to drive me crazy, but I’ve made my peace with it—just his way of being a good citizen and tending the planet. He’s promised me he won’t pick up cigarette butts or food. And he washes his hands thoroughly when we get home. This is the one piece I insist on, so he doesn’t pick up germs or spread them to my hands.

Soon we reached the street festival and poked around hundreds of booths selling jewelry, photos, ceramics, skirts sewn from recycled T’s, henna painting, candles, soaps, jams, weaving, hand-spun wool, recycled sweater mittens, hand-turned wooden bowls and more. We ran into friends. We watched a fencing exhibition, a West African dance demo, a juggling unicyclist. I stopped to draw with sidewalk chalk. We found a wonderful local artisan whose woodworking we admired for the wedding gift. Al bought a ceramic snail; I found a burgundy fabric purse for evenings out.

On the way back, Al pulled out the plastic shopping bags he’d stuffed in his back pocket and began picking up litter. There was no shortage. Plastic water bottles were abundant. He scooped up soda cans, cigarette cartons, aluminum pastry trays, plastic bottle caps, random bits of paper, nips bottles. I started spotting for him—a plastic bottle stuck in a stone wall, a whisky bottle, lids from drinks. Really, it’s astonishing when you start paying attention, how much trash people toss on the street without thinking about the consequences. I’m sure a cultural anthropologist could draw some interesting conclusions. But, basically, a lot of people are just plain careless.

We moved to the side to let a couple pass us on the sidewalk. “That’s so great that you pick up litter!” said the woman. “Thank you!”

Al just smiled and kept going. He separated recyclables from garbage and emptied one plastic bag in a park garbage can along our way, then refilled the bag as we walked. By the time we got home, he had collected dozens of bottles and cans for our recycling bin and more trash for Monday morning’s pick-up.

I commented that there was hardly any litter on our street. “You’ve probably picked it all up!” I said. Al laughed. He went straight to the bathroom sink and washed his hands with plenty of soap. He’d lost his halo earlier. But, not.

Gotta love him.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.


  1. wow. I love you guys. You are both inspirations to me. Much love, -J

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