The Common Good and the Pooper Scoopers

Some quiet people move among us and only occasionally do we notice these angelic beings.

I was driving to the supermarket not long ago when I saw her. A tall woman warmly dressed in a long coat, striding along with a huge plastic bag of garbage in one hand, and a “grabber” tool in the other. One of my good friends! She walks long distances every day. Several times a week, she picks up trash from our city streets as she walks. She’s identified a couple of businesses that will let her use their dumpsters, as there’s way too much for her own garbage can. I asked her what the most common piece of litter is. She said it is, sadly, the little liquor bottles. People have started to notice this woman who looks out for our community.

A retired teacher walks my trail, too, and she also has a grabber. We don’t have quite so much litter here, away from the bustle of downtown, but like a neighbor once told me, “The road in front of our house is located exactly one Happy Meal away from MacDonald’s,” so she finds plenty.

A woman walks the Grand Forest, not far from me, with a child’s rake. Besides pedestrians, horses use this trail, and she rakes off anything they leave.

Another woman walks the Fort Ward park trail with a child’s beach bucket and tongs to pick up after dogs whose owners are not looking out for us. She is a special woman who deserves a clean walking path of gold in her next life.

All women? Not always. Before Covid, an older man walked our road several times a week with a clippers in hand. It’s a popular walking path, but bushes along the road reach out to grab you if you’re not paying attention. He clipped those wandering tendrils as he walked. Sure, one day’s clippings hardly made a difference, but after months and months of doing this, he maintained that trail for us.

I had to check definitions of “the common good.” Ordinarily, the “common good” refers to those things that benefit everyone in the community, like roads, libraries, fire protection, and public education. Public art is a common good. I know not everyone would agree, but I think health insurance is a common good because the more we eradicate communicable disease–viruses, etc, the healthier the whole community is and in the long term, we save money. We all benefit. But that’s a subject for another day.

These pooper scoopers are working for our common good without asking anything in return, and I love them for it!

“We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” — Howard Zinn

Walking on the Wild Side

Toshiba Digital CameraI have walked down my road every day for about 50 years. The “wild side?” Eagles, osprey, kingfishers, sometimes a seal. Blackberry bushes that reach out to grab. A crow picking at a clam he has just dropped on the pavement in order to crack it.

But the walkers are the wildest! So much fun! Most of them are friendly creatures. They make eye contact and smile and often say, “Hi!” or “Hello!” or “Good Morning!” Or they will smile and nod. If they’re on the other side of the road, they will often smile and wave. We’re all out there for the same reasons–to get some fresh air and exercise and enjoy the view. We’re in this together–we’re a team. On the holidays, I always get several cheery greetings from strangers, “Happy Thanksgiving!” or “Happy New Year!”

Occasionally a walker will make a crazy remark. I recently met a couple for the second time on our routes–we both had turned around and were headed in the opposite directions. “Look at that,” the husband said to his wife, “She’s there again! I think she’s a stalker!”

A very few do not make eye contact or smile. They’re in their own world and I respect that. They have their reasons.

I love the Angel Walkers and they’re among the few that I recognize. Litter Lady carries a plastic bag and a “grabber stick” and picks up scraps of garbage, even though she does not live on this road. I worry about her when I haven’t seen her for awhile.

Clippers Man is a tall older man who always has a dog on a leash and occasionally has a clippers in his other hand. As he walks, he reaches over to clip any blackberry vine that is intruding.

I enjoy the bikers, even though they’re a wilder and more dangerous bunch. If they’re coming head on, no problem. Sometimes they’ll nod, and sometimes they’ll greet me with a quick “Hi!” as they pass. They’re always going fast–I stay out of their way. I admire their speed, their muscle, their passion, and their fancy outfits. I am astounded that they have enough breath to be racing by and carrying on conversations with each other at the same time!

The cyclists coming up behind me are the dangerous ones. Some of them will give a “Heads Up!” warning, especially if they’re in a group, or some kind of verbal alert. Sometimes I hear someone cough or clear his throat. I appreciate that. But often, there’s no warning before one swishes by almost close enought to bump me. If I had, for whatever reason, taken a step to the left (part of the route I’m walking is on the right hand side of the road where the trail is wider), one or both of us might have gone down in a fiery crash….or at least a tumble.

I’m an introvert, so I don’t initiate conversations often, but occasionally I will visit with someone and we will walk together for a short distance. These are often amazing conversations–walkers often share a lot of themselves.

Today a woman knocked at my back door. “My husband and I have walked by yiour house for years and admired your persimmon tree. In fact, it inspired us to plant three of our own, but they’re just beginning to bear fruit. Would you mind if we pick your persimmons for you and then take some for ourselves?” I encouraged them to pick as many as they like, and shared some recipes with them.

After 50 years of meeting all these wild walkers (and bikers), I am convinced that a friendly greeting, just a quick “Hi!” and a smile can make a stranger’s day!


“We’re all just walking each other home.” — Ram Dass

“Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbors build their philosophy of life.” –A. J. Cronin




March to June, Step by Step

This month of June will be warm, and my veggies will stretch up and out, green and leafy and showy, but March came in like a lion not so long ago. Like a ravenous lion whose favorite fast food was slow walkers like me.

I’m not a slow walker. It’s just that I get distracted, so I slow down to look, and before I know it, the wind is taking a bite out of me. One March day I had stopped in a strong wind to see a body in the road. Two crows were nibbling on a small dead being, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Not willing to get any closer, and not wanting to interrupt their fine dining, I turned and walked on. About seven paces later, I saw a bit of fur at my feet. And then another–and another. Rabbit fur, dinner leftovers that the wind had re-positioned, and an answer to my question. They looked so soft I wanted to hold one to my cheek, but thought better of it.

I’ve been walking this route for almost 50 years. You’d think in that time I’d have seen it all, but I continue to be surprised.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Walking beside the waves, low tide in May

Recently a pickup truck stopped beside me and the driver called out, “Look up–see the eagle at the top of that tree!” The tree was almost right beside me and I would have missed the eagle if not for this man, a neighbor I do not know well.

A friend has started walking with me quite often and she, a creative artist, is more aware of the visual than I am. One of the first days we walked together, she stopped suddenly, looking down at something at her feet. Frothy-topped weeds beside the road were throwing their shadows onto the pavement, creating intricate, lacy patterns that looked like Chinese writing.

The kindness of a stranger, the mystery of a meal, the beauty of shadows. All of us are facing tough lives in one way or another. Walking is such a simple and ordinary activity. It’s just one activity that eases us through the tough parts–at the least. At the most? An adventure!

    This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.
              –Maya Angelou

Walking on Clam Shells

Some people walk on paths of rose petals. Me? I walk on paths of clam shells. No, they’re not nearly as cushioned, velvety, and fragrant as rose petals, but they keep me moving. The gulls in my neighborhood pick up clams from the beach, fly up and over a hard surface, like the asphalt road, and then drop them, usually cracking the shells so they can eat the innards. These empty, broken shells accumulate alongside the road, right in my pathway. Occasionally a gull meal has been interrupted, and I notice a soft, glistening clam still inside the broken shell.

My mother walked on Seattle sidewalks, up and down those inner city hills, and always wanted to write a book about walking. Now, in an assisted living home, she moves around in her wheelchair on smooth linoleum hallways and flat courtyards.

I am not a long distance walker. I walk for perhaps 20 or 25 minutes a day and that’s it, unless it’s a special walk with a friend. Why do I walk? I walk first of all in order to sleep through the night. Between that and perhaps a little bit of gardening, yardwork, or housework, I have no problems sleeping. I walk because I know it will clear my mind and help me think straight. Fresh air? The stimulation of movement? A different setting? What is it in that walking action that often will help me come up with a creative solution to a problem, or an idea for a writing project?

I walk because I’m an introvert, but I like to see just a few people on an otherwise very quiet day at home. I don’t initiate conversations, so a friendly “Hi!” is as much of an interaction as I need, but occasionally I meet walker friends or neighbors and we visit briefly–and once in awhile, more than briefly. Sometimes I meet Charlie, the 85-year-old man who walks two miles a day. He’s a retired printer and makes stained glass creations as a hobby. Sue, who doesn’t live in my neighborhood, but walks daily in it, always knows more of what’s happening on my street than I do, so I enjoy visiting with her to get the latest local gossip. This morning not many people were out, and I found myself waving to the garbage truck driver.

I walk because I know it will give me energy for facing the rest of the day. On the days I skip walking I almost always notice that old lethargy battling for my body. I also walk because I’m excited about what’s out there today! What plants are blossoming? How’s the work coming on the boathouse my neighbor’s torn apart? Any eagles or ospreys? Is there any fragrance yet from the wild roses that are just opening?

I walk because I know from all the research that I am healthier for it. My heart and lungs are getting exercise, in addition to other muscles. My lower back muscles are being strengthened. I can splurge on that leftover piece of pie.

And, with my mother in mind, I walk because I know it is a very special privilege, and I’m going to take advantage of that privilege while I can–even if it doesn’t take me down a path of roses.

One of my favorite quotes is this one:

We’re all just walking each other home.”
–Ram Dass, spiritual teacher