Once a man goes past a certain age, buying him Christmas presents can become something of a trauma. Of course, if he plays golf or collects sports memorabilia, things might be a little easier. If he happens to be a grumpy old git, whose main pastime is walking, then life for the shopper is hard. How many pairs of socks can you give to the man who has everything before he stops talking to you?
I have to say that this Christmas, my wife excelled herself. Reading me like a book, though perhaps a dog eared one that she was on the verge of palming off to the local charity shop, she presented me with a garbage stick.
For those of you not au fait with the term, a garbage stick is a device that enables the user to pick up items by operating a tiny pincher at the end of a metal stick. This saves him having to bend over every five minutes, but it also eliminates the need to make contact with a vast range of not very hygienic bits and pieces.
The old man’s garbage picking adventure
Walking and hiking are my things. Some people go to the gym, do Pilates, or practice yoga. I walk. In any given week, I probably cover around fifty miles, more if I can find the time.
To add a little environmental upside to my rambles, I pick up the garbage as I wander around the countryside. This harvest is then disposed of when I come across a suitable bin. As I walk so far each day, over the course of a week it is quite amazing just how much rubbish I remove from the forest paths and trails I travel.
To add a little excitement to my work, I have developed a scoring system that helps motivate me in my quest to single-handedly save the planet. Three plastic bags save a turtle, four water bottles save a dolphin, and so on. It is quite a complicated system and involves a certain amount of flexibility as I adjust the ‘save rate’ to accommodate sudden increases in certain types of waste.
The onset of COVID, for example, has enabled me to include a few birds in my repertoire of endangered species. Twenty face masks now save an albatross.
This recent addition came about after seeing a dead albatross tangled in the strings of a face mask on the internet.
My biggest coup took place yesterday when I picked up a plastic football which scored me a killer whale. I know that some readers are probably starting to snort contemptuously at this one. I should point out that he wasn’t a full-grown specimen, just a small male juvenile.
I don’t go as far as naming the animals that I manage to save on my travels. This would constitute anthropomorphism and would result in scientific loss of credibility.
Some people like to point out that I have no way of proving the life-saving efficacy of my scoring system. As they can’t prove otherwise, I am happy to stick with the current methodology.
Other detractors like to mention that I live three hours away from the nearest coastline. As nearly all of this garbage is bound to get into the river and make its way to the ocean eventually, that argument doesn’t deter me either.
Some people think I am a nut case
Where things start to become a little uncomfortable is when I encounter some of the locals on my world-changing walks. I am the only permanent foreigner living in a tiny French village where goat and sheep farming make up the predominant means of earning a living. My accent, poor language skills, and the fact that I get paid to write stories for a living, already make me something of an anomaly.
Toss in the fact that I wander through the woods with a garbage bag and a pick-up stick, and it becomes easy to see how I have acquired a reputation for being a little odd.
No one ever openly voices their reservations about me. On the contrary, the people I encounter tend to be charming and polite, though perhaps slightly reserved.
The fact that their social distancing is always double what it is with anyone else, and that they quickly take a firm grip of any small children they may have accompanying them, speaks for itself.
They assume I am a nut case. That is before I have even begun to explain about the killer whale or the albatross in my broken French.
I’m not alone
It was with some delight that I recently learned that David Sedaris, a writer I admire immensely, also shares my proclivity for picking up little bits and pieces of garbage on his regular walks. It is not that I feel this makes us any closer, or that he is likely to drop me an email congratulating me on my efforts.
It is just that, being a nutcase can be a lonely business, and just knowing that there is another one out there, is somehow, strangely comforting.
I don’t even know if he picks up garbage to simply improve the aesthetics of his neighborhood or if he too is saving endangered wildlife. I would be intrigued to know if he has saved any killer whales.
One million seas birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals are killed through consuming plastic waste that we toss so carelessly each year. If you want to do something for the planet and would like to join me in saving some of them, this is a great place to start.
I can recommend some good garbage sticks (no affiliate marketing involved). For those of you who are a little more skeptical or reticent, well, I hope you enjoy your socks.
Thank you for reading.
If you are interested to read more of my writings, you may read the following one published in The Masterpiece.