Septuagenarian Puts Out Garbage

This is no country for old women.

On Saturday, I confirmed that hypothesis. I did a really hard tai chi class. I climbed into the little red Yaris, which helpfully told me the temperature was 2 degrees celsius (34 F), but of course, it had not factored in the bitter wind, which meant it felt to me much colder. I stopped at the local wine shop to pick up my drug of choice, a little Pinot Grigio to get me through the night. At home, I struggled out of my long, brown, old-lady coat and my fur-lined aviator ear-flapped hat. I unlaced my snow boots. Then I remembered.

Twice a week, at least, I have to put the garbage out. I had the recycling pail ready in the kitchen. The newspaper rack was over-flowing. The ‘real’ garbage pail under the sink was not too fragrant and the compost on the counter was fermenting big time.

I crawled back into the feather duvet, which passes as my coat. I couldn’t dare dash out with just a hoodie on. My screamingly sensitive cells would catch the bitter wind and go for … a week-long headache or pneumonia.  I tied the  hat under my chin. I dragged my tall black Wellingtons out from the back of the closet and clumped out with the recycling pail, the garbage bag and the compost bag. Thus laden I started down the walk that leads to the drive. OMG, I need to put more ice salt down. “Be very, very careful.” I manouevre carefully past the cedar trees that have started to lean with the weight of ice and snow. This gives me a sideways sort of hunchback-of-Notre-Dame look. I decide to leave one of my burdens on the stone wall so that I get a purchase on the wrought-iron rail on the steps. I open the green bin and deposit the compost. Then I move it back away from the basement window sill. The coon which moseyed by my front window this morning needs the sill’s height to get a purchase on the green bin.

I pass on to the blue bin where I upend the recycling pail, noting as I do so that my house mates drink a lot of pop. They may also drink wine, but we have stopped putting wine bottles in this huge bin because of the Polish-only scavenger who insists on rooting through it and putting the recycling into the garbage bin as he goes. True my Polish neighbour has helpfully translated my threats to him and on the third try, achieved the same angry volume as I did. I haven’t seen him since, but that may be because this is no country for old men either. (What do we do with the wine bottles? We have to haul them off to the beer store (!!!) to get our deposit back. I have a whole winter’s accumulation waiting for warm weather.) Last I retrieve the vraiment garbage from the stone wall and turn to the black garbage bin. Back in the house after a careful return walk, I go down to the basement to get the ice salt and carefully salt the walk and the steps and the patches of ice on the drive, which is on a steep slope.

Back in the first floor apartment, I divest myself of outer wear, hang it up and go into the kitchen to make lunch. Opening the freezer, I discover another bag of compost, which really prevents my putting in the frozen food, I just bought at the market where the wine shop is. See above, re outer wear, still icy walk, sloping drive, green bin.

When I was young, you know 30, when I could still whip out the side door in a sweater and put the ONE unsorted bag of garbage in the ONE garbage pail in our double garage, I had children, I had a husband. All I had to do was threaten them with death to get the garbage taken out. It all went to a landfill I never saw and I was content.

Then it transpired that we were killing the earth. We mustn’t buy packaged goods. That worked well. More and more things came sealed in impervious plastic and cardboard. We must reuse. Well, no problem. In my family we even drove our cars until they died of age.

I left the city. I moved to a country town sans help-mates, mostly. I got acquainted with the dump -sorry- transfer station. I got acquainted with the nice man in the gate house. I enjoyed fireside chats. I started sorting bottles into one dumpster, paper into another. I learned to heave heavy, real garbage bags exactly where I was supposed to that week and I enjoyed browsing through the stuff people left at the side, which you could reuse, no charge. I did have to pay when I needed to get rid of a truck load of drywall and old pieces of plumbing. But it was a reasonable cost and Daniel, now an adult, no longer had to be threatened. I had bought the 20-year-old truck for him.

In my back yard, which lay open to my little barn and open fields, I had a composting pile that yielded lovely black loam for my vegetable garden.

By the time I moved back to the city, I found myself with a grey box for paper, a blue box for glass, a real garbage bin and, eventually, a counter-top holder for compost and a small green bin outside, which was especially designed to accommodate the small hands of a raccoon. Luckily, my first apartment on the second floor of a house also had a pond, so we were coon-central for dining excellence.

Well, at least we didn’t have bears, so I saved a couple of thousand on a garbage safe.

Eventually, the city introduced large black garbage bins and blue recycling bins -the green bins were such a success, they carried on. The former two bins can be automatically lifted by the truck as you probably know, except on streets with parking, except…, except… And the green bin guy has to get out and hand load.

In the house, I have often stood with a ting scrap of food and a tiny bit of cellophane extracted from the sink strainer and puzzled my over-worked sorting brain. Which goes where? Sometimes, I confess, I just put both in the garbage, even though the voice of my friend, Sara, alias, the garbage police, is shouting in my head that I have just put another nail in Mother Earth’s coffin. It’s my small rebellion.

Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned.

Note #1: Initially I gave the scavenger bags of bottles.  I was repaid by a grunt and intense self-satisfaction. Then he must have started coming when I wasn’t in the kitchen where I could hear his racket. That’s when he started trashing the recycling..

Note #2: A woman I know went out to her green bin one morning and a coon sprang out in her face. She staggered back, tripped, broke her hip and had to crawl next door. I visited her in rehab. She blamed her husband.

Note #3: Calling all coons -you are nocturnal.

The Meaning of Life -in three phone calls

Sara was inspecting the garbage when she shrieked, “Who put this in here?” She was flourishing a dirty tissue which she had fished out of the black garbage bin and was now flinging into the green compost bin. At lunch she announced to me and our mutual friend Robin that she no longer gave to ‘people’ charities. People were a blight on the planet, she said. She gave to animal charities and  environmental causes only now.

A few days later, I was talking to Robin on the phone. “The world is not going to be saved by recycling,” Robin said. We agreed that it might be saved by empathy, by caring for others and by extension for Earth.

“But if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter because God is already perfect,” said Robin.

“And God is within us?” I asked, just to make sure she wasn’t talking about that remote, supernatural fellow, the church used to tell me about.

“Of course,” she said.

“So, in fact, we are already perfect,” I concluded. And we  changed the subject to family.

But it began to get to me, that February week. I had shingles. Again! Economic recovery still hadn’t kicked in. I had seen one too many shows about terrorism and torture. And I had shingles.

“What the fudge, is it all about?” I asked my sister, Georgia. “Why are we here, working hard like you, hurting hard like me? What does it mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” she replied. “It’s what Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’. It’s when we go off stage, we find our real life. But then, I’m a simple soul.” She didn’t add, “Unlike you who make everything complicated”. Then she did say, “We just do our best. It’s just practical.”

And that is how she lives. She devotes herself to making life better for others.

But she was right in her unspoken assessment of me. I couldn’t drop it.

My osteopath explained to me that the herpes or chicken pox virus that had been lying dormant in my body for these many years was doing its job and attacking the nerves. That was why I had had what I called the achey flu since mid-January, but now that it had surfaced in the form of a rash, I would begin to recover. The aching had already diminished as the itching increased. Recovery would come through rest and relaxation, not through yet more exercise and effort, he said, thus dismissing my default methods.

More time to think. Just what I wanted.

Maybe I hypothesized, we are trying to perfect the material world, to raise its consciousness. Okay, but the maple tree outside my window seems pretty perfect as it is. And the sheba innu I am going to dog-sit next week, ditto. Hum!

How about this? Out of the One came the many. Are we just trying to get back to the One, trying to remember that we are not isolated, victimized, powerless individuals but part of the powerful Whole?

So I posed the question to Julia in a long, long-distance phone call.

She said, “We are God experiencing Itself.”

“Well, why does it have to be so painful?” I demanded.

“That’s the nature of perception,” she said. “The nerves are part of the mind.”

I had a fleeting thought that as soon as there is mind, there is pain. That brought my mind back to torture.

“Someone like Thomas More,” I mused -I was thinking about how he was portrayed in A Man for All Seasons– “is invulnerable to torture because he is at one with God’s perfection.”

Perhaps during my relaxed and restful recovery, I could take short excursions there.

Isn’t there a liturgical blessing, “May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God…”?