Posts Tagged ‘dump’

Simple Pleasures: The Spirit of Giving

A few weeks ago, my eldest grandson, 14, came to Maine to spend some time with us.  One day he accompanied me to the transfer station (a nice word for “The Dump”).  There is no garbage pickup in rural Maine; our local transfer station, about 8 miles away, is open several times a week during set hours and that’s where town residents haul their recyclable and regular trash.

When we went over to the dumpster that holds recyclable trash, my grandson noticed a few new-looking baseball cards sitting on a bunch of discarded corrugated cardboard.  He asked me if I would allow him to climb in the (clean) dumpster and take the cards.

“I think we’d better ask the guys who run the dump,” I answered.  Mostly I was concerned for my grandson’s safety – – I didn’t want them to not know my grandson was rummaging around in the dumpster, only to turn on the compactor and cause a horrific accident.

“You want the cards?  Sure!  Go ahead in and get ’em,” the transfer station employee said.  “And if you’d like me to start saving cards for you, just let me know,” he added.

The worker told us that one of the local residents makes “a little money on the side” by trading baseball cards.  He travels around New England, going to yard sales, auctions, and searching through Craigslist ads looking for baseball cards, which he buys in bulk.  He then goes through the stacks and stacks of cards, quickly filtering out 3 to 10 cards out of hundreds that have collectible value in today’s market.  The rest, he brings to the dump.

“I’ll save the cards for you if you want ’em,” the worker told us.  “Just say the word.”  Sure, I answered, we’d take whatever cards he’d scrounge up.  I didn’t think anything more about it.

A couple of weeks went by and my grandson returned home.  When I next ventured to the dump, the worker scurried towards me, carrying three cardboard boxes.

“I’ve been saving cards for you,” he said.  “And I’ll keep saving them until you tell me to stop,” he added.  I had forgotten about our conversation, but the transfer station worker had not.

I opened one of the boxes.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Each box contained at least 1,000 mint-condition baseball and football cards:  3,000 cards!

The initial three boxes of cards saved for me by the worker at the dump.  All were in clean, mint condition.

The initial three boxes of cards saved for me by the worker at the dump. All were in clean, mint condition.

Thanks to this transfer station worker’s kindness, I was now eligible for the World’s Best Savta (Grandmother) Award.  This is not an easy distinction when you’re talking about preteen and teen-aged boys for whom grandparents are most definitely not, in the ordinary sense of the word, “cool.”

I was so excited!  Thanking the worker multiple times  (and yes, I always bake him goodies every year during Christmas season, and make sure to ask him how his fishing and hunting are coming along in the Summer and Fall), I placed the boxes in the back of my car, imagining my grandsons’ faces when I presented them with the cards upon my return to my hometown.  This was definitely a case of one person’s trash being someone else’s treasure.  I emailed my kids, alerting them to my plans.

“Just got a boatload of discarded mint condition baseball cards for the boys.  Should keep them busy for hours!”

“Oh, no!”  was my children’s reply.  “More stuff!” they railed.  “Just one more thing to have to clean up after!” they groaned.  “We already have enough messes!”

“Spoken like a true parent,” I replied.  “When did you guys get so old and tired?  You don’t sound like my kids; you sound like I used to sound when you were little!  Just remember how much you used to love collecting these cards when you were kids,” I added with a dose of Jewish Mother guilt-tripping.

So with Chanuka coming, my husband and I drove down to our home town, and presented the cards to two sets of grandsons, boys ages 6 thru 14.  “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!”  “THANK YOU SO MUCH!” “WOW!” “Savta, YOU ROCK!” “AWESOME!” “BEST! PRESENT! EVER!” were some of the reactions.  For the next six hours the boys got busy sorting the 3,000 cards.

Some of the grandsons sorting 3,000 baseball and football cards.  Their mother was convinced she'd never get her table back.

Some of the grandsons sorting 3,000 baseball and football cards. Their mother was convinced she’d never get her table back.

I have no idea if they found any treasures; for all I know these cards are totally worthless.  But for six hours (and four hours the following day), there was only joy:  no fighting, no sibling rivalry; the boy cousins had yet another bonding experience; and, completely free of charge and thanks to the simple kindness of my local dump worker in Maine . . .  I was the best Savta in the whole world.

Happy New Year to all!

Advertisements

Impromptu Tour Guide

Due to cutbacks by the United States Postal Service, our local post office has dramatically reduced its hours.  Now it’s open for transactions only M-F from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m, and 2:15 pm  – 4:15 p.m. in the afternoons.  The post office delivery truck drops off the mail around 8:30 a.m., and it’s placed in PO boxes around 9 a.m., so the window to get one’s daily mail in the morning is very narrow indeed.  The lobby without counter service is open during the middle part of the day if you have a post office box, but if you get a notice in your box that a package has arrived and you aren’t there during counter service times – – too bad.  You must return during one of the two-hour windows to claim your package.  It gets worse:  the routes of both FedEx and UPS work out so that they arrive at the post office between 12:30 – 1:30 pm, when the post office is closed, so packages headed to the post office cannot be delivered or redeemed if they are being delivered to your post office box as an address.  A solution to this problem would be for UPS and FedEx to place a delivery box outside, so the postmaster could access it during open hours, but UPS and FedEx have so far been uninterested in doing so.  It is very likely that in the next 2 years, our local post office branch will cease operating altogether.

I try to coordinate a visit to the post office with our transfer station – – also known as the garbage dump — which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 – 4.  We have no trash pickup here – all self-generated refuse must be taken to the dump in our car. The post office is 6 miles away and the dump is another 2.5 miles further up the road, and what with the cost of gas nowadays, I try to limit my visits.  Also on Tuesdays, our tiny library is open from 5 pm – 7 pm (the other day is Shabbat, so I can’t visit then).  It’s a 3-mile trip one way from home to the library but it’s on the way to the post office and dump, so I try to stop by the library on the way home.  Still, I do have time to kill from the post office closure at 4:15 to the library’s opening time of 5 p.m.

So yesterday I stopped by the lake.  I couldn’t go swimming or kayaking due to it being the Nine Days (leading up to Tisha B’Av), but I was content to sit there and watch a 5-year-old boy fishing with his father.  The look of joy on the little boy’s face when he caught a fish (as well as the proud dad’s) was priceless, and I never tire of the serene view of the lake, clouds, and surrounding mountains, and the quiet.

Suddenly a minivan with Illinois license plates turned into the parking area, and a married couple with 2 preteen daughters stepped out and started taking pictures of the beautiful view.  I couldn’t resist asking if they were from Chicago – – one of my daughters lives there and I will be going there to visit next week.

“No, we rented this car from New York,” the man replied.  “We are from Denmark.  We are doing a driving tour of the eastern United States.”  He explained that one of his daughters had hurt her ankle, and as a result they had to cancel many of their planned activities for the day.   They were limiting themselves to sightseeing from the car on this day, and had driven about 90 miles from western New Hampshire, extemporaneously wandering the scenic mountain roads.  He had many questions about what there was to see in this part of Maine, as well as questions about Maine culture, the people, the lifestyle, etc.

Well, I had nothing better to do until the library opened . . .

“We didn’t care for New York too much, to tell you the truth,” he confessed.  “Such a big city is not really our thing; we really prefer being in nature.”  He proceeded to tell me how surprised he was “that many of the natives we encountered there spoke English with very strong accents that we couldn’t understand.”  I had visions of him encountering chassidim who not only dress differently than the mainstream, but speak “Yinglish.”  But he said, “I’m talking about Hispanics and Chinese people.  I couldn’t believe it, but we met people who are Americans who could not even speak English!  That was very surprising to us – – I don’t understand how citizens can live in a country and not speak its language!  How is this possible?”

As we chatted,  I made several suggestions of places they could visit nearby that were off the beaten track and were known only to locals.  “You won’t find these suggestions in any tour book,” I said, “but if you love nature, you won’t want to miss them.”  Still, I realized that many of the places lacked signage and were accessed by hidden dirt or gravel roads, and he was unlikely to find them based on my directions alone.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I will take you to some of these places if you’d like.  You can just follow me in your car.”

I guess I looked trustworthy, because they were game.

I had a great time taking them all over the place – – I probably used up $20 out-of-pocket in gas.  I would stop my car every so often and they’d pull up behind me.  “Look – here are some moose hoof-prints!” I’d point out.  Or, “Check carefully along the road – last year at this time I saw a bear cub foraging here for blueberries.”  And:  “This little library was a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s until 1963.  Now it’s used as a library, and the author Stephen King, who lives nearby, helps to fund it.”  And:  “This area used to be a heavily forested valley, until 1983, when a severe storm with 100-mph winds created a blow-down. The entire forest was destroyed.  Then the beavers took over, and gradually the dammed area became the desolate bog you are looking at now.  Isn’t the power of nature amazing?”  I also took them to a hidden glen with a beautiful stream and small waterfalls.  “Salmon spawn here in November!” I gushed.  They were impressed!

Again and again, they thanked me profusely at each new stop for being able to see things and learn things that would otherwise not have been possible.  Together we ended up spending about 90 minutes touring the area.  We developed quite a rapport.  I discussed everything from logging and woodsmen, to moose and bear hunting, hiking, fishing, locals’ acceptance of strangers, politics, racism (the lack thereof), local education and jobs, cuisine, odd Maine laws – – you name it.   I said that the motto of Maine should be “live and let live,” since people are quite accepting of letting people do their own thing, as long as they don’t try to stuff their personal agenda down another’s throat.

“Oh, you mean everyone in Maine is very liberal!” the man exclaimed with glee.

“Well, I guess that depends on how you’d define ‘liberal,'” I replied.  “I mean, just about everyone here owns a gun,” I said.  The poor man’s eyes grew wide as saucers.  Then I realized:  who knows what they were thinking as I led them with my car through narrow mountain passes, through pocked and pitted gravel roads, through forest lanes so laden with foliage that you needed headlights to turn the shadows back into daylight, in places where no other people or buildings were in sight?  And now that I had said that everyone in rural Maine owns a gun, they probably felt like they were in a replay of “Deliverance,” only I was the one who could have been the bad guy!

Alas, it was now 6 p.m. and I still hadn’t made it to the library.  I recommended yet another isolated mountain road that would ultimately lead them back to their point of origin in New Hampshire, and after ensuring that their GPS recognized my suggested route, we wished one another well and said our goodbyes.

I don’t know what made me offer this impromptu goodwill tour to a family of complete strangers from a distant land.  I know they loved it – – they told me so, repeatedly, and remarked many times how fortunate I was to live in such a place.  But I confess, I do not know who enjoyed it more:  I had a wonderful time sharing the beauty and lore of my surroundings, and making my experiences a part of their experience, however vicariously or fleetingly.

Amazingly, after we parted, I realized that neither of us had told one another our names!

Only a week before I had read a wonderful book called “All Natural:  A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier” by Nathanael Johnson.  The concluding paragraph reads,

It wasn’t the Yosemite sunsets that had filled me with such hale energy as a child, it was watching those sunsets with my family, the four of us huddled together, windbreaker against windbreaker.  It wasn’t the close clarity of the stars, but Mom pointing out the Milky Way, that gave me the vertiginous feeling of falling into the vast heart of our galaxy. It was not only the place that mattered, but the fact that in that place the family was together and uninterrupted. I’d gone looking for Eden in the places where human fingerprints disappeared, but paradise was empty without the human touch.

Jon Krakauer, in his book “Into the Wild,” writes about Christopher McCandless,  the young American adventurer who (naively and tragically) planned to live alone with a minimum of supplies in the Alaskan wilderness.  His body was found dead of starvation only 4 months later, along with a meticulously kept journal.  In one of his last entries, trapped there as he lay dying in isolation, he scribbled:    “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”

Trash

Recently there was an uproar in my “home town” because the City decided to cut down on the number of trash barrels they would pick up.  That’s fine when you are a typical American family of 2 children and 2 adults (wait:  that was typical back in the 70s, but today…?) but amongst Orthodox Jews who might have 10 children and 2 parents, 2 barrels of trash is hardly reasonable.  That said, I wonder how city dwellers would survive out here in the woods, where there is no trash pick up at all!

Our town dump is located 9 miles from our house, although it is no longer called “the dump.”  Political correctness has hit even this remote corner of the woods; the proper term is “transfer station.”  I guess it sounds more elegant for someone to say he works at the “transfer station” than “the dump.”  It’s open for very limited hours, 4 days a week.  With the cost of gas this week at $2.90, and bone-jarring gravel roads, it forces you to organize your errands so your forays are infrequent exercises in multi-tasking.

Towns handle refuse costs differently.  In some places, you must purchase marked garbage bags from the Town Office, and that signifies your right to use a particular transfer station.  The bags aren’t expensive, but it helps defray the cost of managing the transfer station, and people are more likely to limit the amount of trash they use if they have to pay for the bags.

Our town doesn’t use such a system; the maintenance budget for the transfer station comes solely out of our property taxes (which are quite low, I might add).  I have a waste permit decal on my front windshield, courtesy of the Town Office; only residents of our town and two neighboring ones have the right to use our transfer station, and they must all have that blue waste sticker on their vehicles.

The dump is a well-organized paragon of recycling. As you drive through the gates, the paved avenue is a giant cul-de-sac.  There are different sections for different kinds of trash.  On your left, in a field, is a massive pile of brush.  On your right is a tower of toilets.

The Tower of Toilets

Then comes the giant dumpster for broken furniture and soiled mattresses.  On the left is a dumpster for common household garbage (food, diapers, plastic bags, and other non-recyclables).  There is a pile for metal objects; another pile for building supplies.  One dumpster is for old computers; another is for old televisions.  There is a dumpster for mixed household recyclables (glass, cans, aluminum, paper).  And finally there is the “nice” dumpster, where people throw household items in good condition that can be donated to poor families (clothes, kids’ bikes, decent furniture).

Weekends are the busiest days for the transfer station.  Whereas in the city busy people might socialize when they run into one another at the supermarket, the place in rural Maine to catch up with your friends is at the transfer station.

By the way, plastic soda bottles do not get recycled at the transfer station. If you look at the plastic bottles you have at home, you will notice in fine print the $.05 deposit refund that is redeemable in Maine.   There are special “redemption centers” throughout Maine (and in most supermarkets) but the process is tedious.  The bottles are fed through a machine (that often jams or breaks) which reads a bar code, so the bottles cannot be crushed.  This means that you must lug a garbage bag-sized load of empty uncrushed soda bottles each time you set out for the market, which is not often because the redemption center/market closest to my house is 45 minutes away.  As a result, we have mostly stopped buying soda, relying on the delicious pure mountain water from our well to quench our thirst, which is surely a healthier alternative.

Still, it’s no fun to have a load of stinky garbage riding in the car for 10 miles (most people use their pickup trucks), nor is it fun to leave trash in the house until dump day (we can’t leave it outside due to marauding bears, raccoons, and fisher cats, a vicious mink-like animal).  So the goal is to limit one’s trash as much as possible, which means rethinking entirely the way you shop and consume goods.  Whenever I go to the supermarket now, I look at the packaging as much as I do the product.  Newspapers are saved and rolled, to be used as fire starters for our wood stove.  Vegetable peels, fruit, eggshells and coffee grounds are thrown into a closed-barrel composter 75′ from our front door.  Granted there are only two people in our household, but I’m nevertheless  pleased we’ve managed to cut down our non-recyclable trash load from the three bags a week we used when we first came, to only one bag per week currently.  Even knowing that most of the trash is disposed of or headed for landfill, it’s a wake-up call to see trash dumped in the beautiful woods that is our transfer station.  We don’t really have a visual connection to trash when we live in a city, but it’s gotta go somewhere. When that somewhere is up close and personal, it makes one want to take a little more responsibility for creating it, and feel a little twang of guilt for being part of that defilement.