THE road is a no man's land, a 30-foot-wide corridor of rock and earth where people rarely walk. On some days, dust clouds rising around the few cars and trucks that use the road powder everything growing at its edge. In rainy weather, terra-cotta mud coats whatever passes by. Always, living things cross the road quickly, whether they move by night or by day. Walking for pleasure is usually done in the woods, or along the small two-track lanes and paths that branch off through pastures and trees. My friend Chris and I have worn a path through the woods between our houses. We are usually eager to avoid the road, and enjoy the feeling of wilderness adventure that walking down the path gives us. We use the road regularly only for a few weeks in summer when ticks and chiggers are wide awake in the Ozarks. Then most humans leave the woodland and its creepy-crawlies alone.
During the rest of the year, however, the woodland is the place for walking. I enjoy its solitude and ever-changing life whether I am walking alone or sharing the experience with my husband or another good friend.
Wooded areas do not offer easy paths like the road does. The forest floor is always a trash heap of fallen leaves, branches, and trees. In clearings there are tangles of wild grapevines and blackberry canes. What will soon become food for a new generation of growth is scattered and blown, making each footstep something to be thought about.
The only visible logic in this forest trash, other than a well-coordinated color scheme of brown and gray, is the order of what happens in nature. Here the fallen skeleton of one tree feeds the life of another. Nature's trash is acceptable, welcome, necessary.
When people do walk the road, they usually stride quickly, full of purpose and eager to get someplace else. In the summer, some carry pails and pick the blackberries that ripen along the road. Now, when Chris and I walk on the road, we carry big bags with handles.
Our first walk on the road together was her idea. One afternoon I was using my chain saw to reduce the tree John had just felled to stove-size pieces. Chris can hear my chain saw from her porch, so she knew what I was doing and how long I had been doing it. One of her purposes in life is teaching me that there are times when being able to leave a task is more important - and more rewarding - than finishing it. Her lessons had already succeeded to some degree, so when she came down the path carrying two large paper bags, I obediently shut off my saw and followed her up our lane toward the road.
The reason for our walk was soon evident. While I had often sighed or fumed over the litter that appeared along the road, Chris had decided to do something about it. We began to fill our bags with trash.
Most of humanity's trash is not about to rot into the forest floor. It certainly is not color-coordinated with nature's scheme of things ... this kind of litter doesn't blend with anything at all. Whatever its useful purposes once were, careless disposal has made it into something ugly. The scattered spots of white, green, red, blue, and silver are left as fading remnants ... of what? Technology? Our throwaway society? Probably nothing that thought-provoking! Roadside litter is just something ``we'' expect as a part of today's world.
Well, not on our road! Chris had decided enough was enough, and we now pick up plastic cups and trays, paper trash, and cans and bottles, regularly. There is a certain sense of adventure about our trash walks. Who will find the most of something? Will our bags be full before we reach the paved highway, and the end of our walk?
Over the months that we have been trash collectors, something very interesting has happened. There is now less trash for us to find, and the roadside stays clean longer. Could it be that, in the littering game, few of us want to be first?