Last night, I took a walk along the trail behind my house. It’s part of a nature preserve that runs beside a creek that will, in a mile or so, empty into the Chesapeake Bay. The space is gorgeous, the creek gurgling quietly, the air fresh and open. It’s a lovely spot that I can reach in one minute when I walk out my back door. I feel very blessed to have it so close by.

Yet, as I walked, it took me a while to settle into the beauty because of two things I kept seeing – garbage and four-wheeler tracks. The garbage comes because people do not appreciate the space that they have, tossing aside their chip bags and even old t-shirts as if they were in their own living room (although I would advise against this even in the living room). Most of the people who use this trail are teenagers, kids bored with life in a small town – but still, I wonder why they do not take the time to pick up their garbage when they go home. I probably shouldn’t wonder since they will have to carry their garbage a little distance to reach a garbage can when I see people at the movie theater, a place replete with trashcans, leaving their popcorn bags on the floor. We seem to have become a people who think others will clean up our messes. That makes me sad.

The second distraction on my hike had to do with the massive ruts caused by four-wheelers that ride this trail. They are not allowed to do so, and many of my neighbors and I have called the police when we hear them on the trail. This does not seem to deter people. I’m sure that they feel they have a right to ride the trail and that it’s quite fun, but it’s also loud and very destructive to the trail and potentially to the stream that runs beside it.

Eventually I did drop into that quiet space of walking and sitting by the stream last night – a blessed few minutes of quiet – but this morning I was thinking about the ways we waste things in our lives – our opportunities, our relationships, the resources and places we’ve been given. We seem to squander away these things, thinking they will always be there or that someone else will take care of them. I know that this is not true; I’ve seen relationship and things fade away into decay simply because I did not make the time to care for them. It’s sad.

Sometimes we seem to be so busy that we cannot care for what we have – we can’t pick up our trash or drive a little further away to have our joy rides. We can’t spare 15 minutes to call a friend or 20 to write a letter. We can’t care for our gardens (or even plant them) because our culture (and our desire to be a part of it) keep us moving, working, “participating.” Sometimes, I think we need to just settle in, make do with less, and appreciate what we do have. This is a lesson I really need to learn for myself.

So in this spirit, here are a few articles on this theme.

The first is from Mother Jones and urges us to consider some of our “American” roots – thrift and prudence – as we “use” the world around us.

The second comes from The Heifer Project and discusses was we can use our leftovers to reduce waste and keep us mindful of those around us who do not have the “privilege” of throwing away food.

Finally, the EPA produced this document about the ways to reduce “solid waste” and feed the hungry.

For me, the next time I walk the trail I’ll take a long bags to gather trash in. It’s the only way I know to help, although there I am, right?, cleaning up just as it seems we all expect. Sigh.