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Wednesday, December 21, 2011



The word “indignation” sounds old-fashioned. It is burdened with disappointment, expectation and anger. I recognized the feeling of indignation just this morning.

Near the bottom of my driveway is an old tree, half-broken, but clinging to life. It is nestled between the lazy meandering waterway called West Brook and Westbrook Road. A fortuitous split of the tree left a flat, table-like surface at about 45 inches off the ground. Over time, the surface of this “table” has been overgrown by moss. This small altar-like artifice undergoes mysterious seasonal transformations. At the beginning of each equinox, an offering is placed by unknown hands. Fall might bring a smattering of pumpkins and gourds, Spring offers small flowers dug into the moss, often pansies. Summer the moss does all the work as it turns lustrous and green. Winter, there might be a few small pebbles and stones, piled artistically. It always makes me think of the tree that housed treasures in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In this case, it seems like little fairies come out and do the work while the rest of the world sleeps.

On a recent walk, I noticed that squirrels had nibbled into one pumpkin, knocked down another and chewed a gourd down to its neck. It was at that moment I hatched my plan. I would do the seasonal display myself this time! It was with tremendous pleasure
that I turned over various ideas. What intruded upon my thoughts was exactly the same thing that has intruded upon my thoughts on every walk I have taken since September.
There is a small bridge that passes over West Brook. At the corner of the bridge, a bag of garbage had fallen or been thrown from a vehicle. The offending bottles, cans, and detritus had sat untouched for weeks and weeks and weeks. When the town crews were mowing there, I thought they might have removed the trash. No, it just sat. Through flood and blizzard and gale force winds, the offending items remained. It occurred to me that if I was going to spruce up the special place, I would have to do something about this careless mess someone left behind.

I set out on my walk with determination the next morning. I had a white Hefty kitchen trash bag, gloves and a fistful of colorful Christmas balls that I threaded with pipe cleaners. My first stop was at the special tree. I hung ornaments and made a spray of evergreens to decorate the tree with a festive, non-denominational kind of feel. From there, I headed to the bridge to pick up and bag the garbage. I filled 3/4 of a bag. I left the bag, and continued on my walk, seeking out other garbage I could remove to beautify the scenery along a road I love so much. On the return, I picked up the sac, dumped in the additional trash, then headed on home. I stopped once again to admire my handiwork at the tree, then proceeded on home.

I dropped the plastic trash bag along with the latex gloves into a big, green garbage bin before going inside to wash my hands. I was looking forward to seeing my handiwork on the next trip down the driveway.

This morning, I got suited up for my walk in the cold and the dark. Snowpants, hat, gloves, scarf and winter kicks. I felt a small frisson of satisfaction when I saw the incongruent silver, gold and red ornaments hanging from the fallen tree at the bottom of my driveway. I looked forward to - finally - passing over West Brook Bridge without seeing garbage strewn on one side of it. But wait! What’s this??? I did a literal double-take when I saw a scattering of new empties at the exact same site I cleaned just 24 hours earlier.
Enter indignation.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of INDIGNATION matches my own: anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean.
I felt indignation and disbelief that there was one spot that someone appears free to use as a repository for their trash. I am angry that I went to the trouble to gather and remove the last load and there it was, back again. As I marched home, propelled by my righteous indignation, I paused a moment in front of the altar of the seasonal delights. I confess that my steam of anger lost its head as I looked at a few ornaments and a spray of evergreens. As I headed up the long driveway that leads to my house, I found myself considering whether I should swing by with my car to pick up the offending rubbish or bring along another Hefty kitchen trash bag on my walk tomorrow morning.

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