A boy in a dragon costume is sitting at the top of the children’s slide. Another child in kangaroo pajamas is carefully traversing the rope bridge, while nearby a girl with cat ears is being chased around the rocks by her father. I’m at the Boulder Public Library looking out a window and taking in the scene at the newly remodeled children’s playground. It’s sunny and warm for February and people are out and about. I’m feeling lucky to be here and maybe a little nostalgic thinking about my own kids. We still have a lot of fun together, but they’re older now and I’m not swinging them upside down in my arms anymore.
Then I spot something that shouldn’t fit but sadly is part of the Boulder downtown scenery. Directly below my perch I see one of those familiar metal receptacles for compost/recycle/landfill. But all around the base of the trash bin is …. more trash. A tattered sweatshirt and a muddy shoe piled in with fast food remnants, cigarette boxes, tin cans, cardboard, foil, several discolored socks and a pair of jeans. The trash is strewn about and unsightly as the children play nearby. I crinkle my nose and sigh inwardly. I even snap a picture, thinking I might use this as fodder for a blog post.
An hour later, my daughter and I have left the library and we are walking across a parking lot in another part of town, on our way to another errand. A paper plate scuttles by in the breeze, and I chase it down, catching it underfoot and then disposing of it somewhere it won’t blow away again. My daughter, who did not see the trash heap earlier, makes an observation: “If everyone in the world picked up just one piece of garbage, there would be a lot less garbage everywhere.”
So, once we got home from our errands I went back to the library with several big black garbage bags and some gloves. Now, I understand this wasn’t my responsibility and city services would have gotten to it. But it was a windy day and some of this trash was blowing away; in fact another parent saw my trash bags and pitched in, picking up various pieces that had been blown off the pile into the play area. It took all of 10 minutes to pick it all up.
This won’t solve the core problem, I know, and there is other work that can be more impactful; for example, taking steps to help solve the homelessness problem in Boulder. But it also doesn’t feel right to sit back and merely make observations without being willing to take some action. There’s a quote from a character in a fiction novel I read ages ago that goes something like, “Problems should be confronted by the people who see them.” The older I get the more problems I become aware of, and the real question is finding energy and deciding which problems to work on.