I’m walking through the woods on a cool autumn morning, enjoying the crunch of red and yellow leaves beneath my feet and the warmth of the sun peeking through the treetops. The unfinished project on my desk, the argument with my sister last night, the decision about whether or not to accept a new job–all are forgotten as I immerse myself in the sights, sounds and smells of nature.
At least, until my eyes are distracted by a small blue plastic bag, jauntily perched atop a granite boulder. Dog poop, left by a previous hiker who didn’t want to carry the smelly souvenir along with them. The smells of nature are immediately replaced in my mind with odors that are decidedly less pleasant. And as I continue along the path, I struggle to return to the state of serenity I previously enjoyed.
Even a single piece of litter can mar our enjoyment of being in nature, as well as encourage others to also litter. For those reasons, I have been picking up litter as I hike for many years, hoping to spare other hikers an unpleasant experience. And I’ve learned that when I leave an area entirely clean, it stays clean much longer than if I only pick up part of the litter.
I’ve also learned that picking up other people’s trash is more tolerable, and even enjoyable, when done with a group of friends. I started a local pliking club in 2018 with the goal of developing a community of like-minded individuals who enjoy nature and making a difference. Something about the experience of picking up a stranger’s unmentionables together has created a strong bond between us, and we often get together for purely social reasons, such as going to a movie or to a restaurant.
And to pick up a discarded cup or candy wrapper before walking in the door.