I was in Yosemite the week of September 22nd, which happened to be the 11th annual Facelift event, sponsored by the Yosemite Climbing Association. Volunteers sign up for trash pick up duty and then scour the Park for litter. Last year volunteers picked up 9,000 pounds of trash. That’s actually down from the previous years – either people are littering less, or the cleanup is finally catching up on years and years of littering. So with the Facelift event, there’s a contest by bag-o-trash weight for the winning participant, a raffle, and that general feeling of accomplishment that makes you smile and reach for the hand sanitizer.
I signed up mainly out of guilt. I’d been wandering around Yosemite Valley and bicycling its pathways for a day and a half, watching the day-glo vested volunteers with their bags of trash and gripper sticks. I had plenty of time, so I volunteered for an hour, and ended up doing two. I signed a waiver, got an orange vest, a grabby stick, a trash bag, a free mini-ClifBar, and a pretty nice stainless steel souvenir water bottle. Then I got the mini-lecture on trash (pick it up) versus archaeology (leave it alone!) and I was ready to go.
Picking up trash is not what I expected. I definitely knew there’d be grossities- chewed bubblegum for starters (though the main items tended to be either popsicle sticks or fruit barcode stickers). I didn’t count on the difficulty of trying to drop trash into my bag during the most blustery day of the week without the bag blowing open and all my carefully gleaned trashy bits spilling out everywhere. I definitely think the gripper sticks could be more ergonomic – how hard it is to make a handle with finger grips and angle the stick just a little differently so a person doesn’t get carpal tunnel. Whine, whine. The grippy end was amazing, though – I could pick up a tiny bit of paper in one try, and that is not due to any skill that I possess other than decent hand-eye coordination.
The two hours went by pretty fast, and I began to notice that people noticed me more often. Walking around alone in a crowded National Park is a great way to get ignored or get weird stares. When I was walking around alone with my Bag of Nasty and my grippy stick, I got smiles and sometimes chitchat. What a hero! I also discovered that, after my two hours and my 0.6 pounds of trash (not a great haul, but honestly the place had really been cleaned up by the time I stepped up), I couldn’t stop looking down at the ground for more trash. Afterward, I sat on a bench in front of the Ansel Adams Gallery and immediately counted 4 cigarette butts on the ground. I didn’t pick them up. I’d already picked up 47 butts on my trash duty. Yes, I counted the butts I picked up, and I think 47 is actually a very low number based on what I saw in other people’s bags. Anyone out there who doesn’t put his or her cigarette butts in a trashcan – you are not cool. The earth is not your ashtray.
I say all this, Miss High and Mighty, but there was one bit of trash I didn’t pick up. I saw it – a dried out buttwipe behind a tree – and I hesitated. And then, no. No no no. Not even with my three-foot grippy stick. Not a hero. But I tried.