THE LONG VIEW: Writer stays physically and environmentally fit

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With nicer temperatures returning to the Midwest, plenty of cold weather couch potatoes are back outside. Running sneakers, bicycles, and walking shoes have been dusted off and put on the streets again.

In deference to the mileage on my bones and joints, I have been walking. There has been some bike riding, but my new dedication to activity has largely meant rambling down the sidewalks of adjacent neighborhoods, or along the walkway that circumnavigates a nearby lake.

With nicer temperatures returning to the Midwest, plenty of cold weather couch potatoes are back outside. Running sneakers, bicycles, and walking shoes have been dusted off and put on the streets again.

In deference to the mileage on my bones and joints, I have been walking. There has been some bike riding, but my new dedication to activity has largely meant rambling down the sidewalks of adjacent neighborhoods, or along the walkway that circumnavigates a nearby lake.

The leaves on vines and bushes have yet to emerge. As such, one thing is annoyingly everywhere in the undergrowth — litter.

It would seem an entire winter’s worth of refuse is suddenly eviden. A morning’s jaunt finds me ignoring birdsong and blue sky; instead, I am steaming as I count the candy wrappers, bottles, cans, chip bags, and other trash in the gutters and shrubs lining the bigger roads.

Some debris is easy to explain. As vehicles are made with so many plastic components now, each scattering of plastic shards and every chunk of bumpers, headlights, taillights, or windshield washer fluid reservoirs marks the site of a fender bender.

But the stuff people have so carelessly dropped while striding by or tossed from an open car window is much harder to understand.

True, as a young smoker I considered the world my ashtray. Standing on the street or driving by, I thought nothing of flinging my glowing cigarette to either crush it out with my shoe or admire its brief shower of sparks in my rearview mirror.

But somewhere along the way, I understood I was trashing my community. Until I quit smoking, then, I made an effort at proper cigarettes disposal, an added hassle that ultimately helped me kick the habit.

What does it say about society that litterbugs are so commonplace? It’s not like trash receptacles are rare; many cities and towns have them on street corners and in parks. They are prominently accessible at fast food establishments, and you’ll find them outside entrances to most malls and freestanding stores.

Do we collectively have so little regard for where we live that we feel okay trashing it?

I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, too many people just haven’t made the connection between respect for their surroundings and respect for themselves and others.

A few years ago, while waiting at a stoplight in my small city, the back door of the vehicle next to me partially opened and a handful of fast food rubbish was dropped onto the street. I rolled down my window and, in a loud voice, asked the rear-seat passenger not to do that.

Immediately, he sheepishly retrieved the debris. I smiled and shouted my gratitude.

“Thanks for keeping our city looking good,” I told him.

He grinned self-consciously as the light turned green. We drove on, but I hope he took with him the notion that people care about our town. That’s an important thing for him to know if he was a local, and important if he was from out of town.

Presently, I try to light a candle, not curse the darkness; on every walk, I now take a bag in which to collect garbage I encounter. Maybe a potential litterbug will see me picking up and think again.

If nothing else, this crusade benefits my fitness regimen. Carrying a few pounds of bottles, cans, and plastic surely make my walk healthier.

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com

THE LONG VIEW: Writer stays physically and environmentally fit