Ed Ackerman

Ed Ackerman Pittston Progress cv30ackermanp2 Warren Ruda / The Citizens' Voice

I spent those nice days last week raking leaves.

I’m not sure my doctor would have approved since it’s been only a month since he took off my cast after surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. I may have overdone it, but I couldn’t resist. The weather was perfect and the leaves were calling.

I enjoy raking leaves. I’ve enjoyed it since I was a kid helping my dad. In those days, we raked leaves into the gutter and Dad lit them on fire. Dads all around did the same. The smell of smoke permeating the neighborhood was as much a part of autumn as getting out our woolen sweaters.

By the way, my dad would have called the recent warm days “Indian Summer.” I did an internet search to see if that term is considered offensive today. It is not. Good. My dad certainly meant no disrespect.

While my dad’s been gone for more than 25 years, he’s with me when I’m raking leaves. But that’s just part of the experience. I enjoy the exercise. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment. And I particularly enjoy being alone with my thoughts.

There’s nothing like rote activity to free the mind. Chopping wood, shoveling snow, running along a country road, raking leaves, they’re all the same. Your muscle memory takes over and your mind goes dancing off where it will. I’ve written many a column during a five-mile run or an afternoon of raking leaves.

Like this one.

As I filled my 21st bag — yep, I have a lot of leaves, and there are plenty more still on my trees — it occurred to me that the one thing I’ve never liked about raking leaves no longer exists. At least for now.

What I don’t like is stopping over and over to pick up litter intermingled with the leaves. I suppose I could hide it in the bags, but my conscience won’t let me. The city carts away leaves and dumps them on a compost heap. We can’t have a Styrofoam cup lurking in there for the next 500 years. But, man, that litter sure has a way of ruining the leaf-raking vibe.

Except for this year.

The reason is the coronavirus pandemic.

See, my home sits on a busy corner in the city. A busy corner which serves as a school bus stop. The litter I find all over is largely deposited by the little darlings waiting for the bus in the morning, or sprinting away from it in the afternoon.

The kiddoes don’t think twice about letting a wrapper from their candy bar or Tastykake fall to the sidewalk, or flipping their soda can or empty (even worse, not quite empty) Gatorade bottle under my hedge.

But Pittston Area has not had in-person classes all term. With kids being taught remotely, I haven’t seen a school bus since, oh, last March. No school buses means no school students. And no school students means no litter.

I hate sounding like an old codger, although I’m sure I do, but how did we raise a generation of kids with no respect for the world they live in?

I grew up in the ’60s when, thanks to Lady Bird Johnson’s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign, an anti-littering attitude was drummed into us in high school. And not just from our teachers. There were “Keep America Beautiful” posters everywhere and “Keep America Beautiful” public service messages every night on TV.

Even the dog Lassie got into the act.

By far, the most moving of the anti-litter commercials, however, was the one featuring Iron Eyes Cody as a Native American observing how mankind has scarred the earth. As he pulls his canoe out of a polluted river onto a littered river bank, the narrator says, “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the beauty of this country, and some people don’t.” With that, a bag of trash, flung out of a car window, lands at Iron Eyes’ feet. The camera zooms in to show a single tear well up in his eye and trickle down his cheek.

“People start pollution,” the narrator says, “and people can stop it.”

Seeing and hearing that, you wouldn’t dare toss as much as a gum wrapper on the ground.

Please don’t get me wrong. If it meant the end of the COVID-19 threat and the reopening of schools, I’d go back to picking up all that litter in a minute. But is it too much to ask that when schools do re-open, we insert a little of that old Lady Bird message into the curriculum?

“If you’re not part of the solution,” our teachers used to say, “you’re part of the problem.”

We took it to heart.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

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