Monday, February 23, 2015

Chandler, Arizona: Too Clean for Cub Scouts

About four months ago my eight-year-old son became a Cub Scout, which means that his calendar (and by extension, mine) has suddenly gotten much fuller. We’re putting together shell collections, building pinewood derby cars, and solving cryptograms. It’s a lot more than I ever remember doing when I was a Cub Scout. Really my only memories of my scouting days are eating cupcakes at the end of den meetings and being chosen to play “the mom” in a skit in which I had to don a wig and a green dress. (I think my son’s got it a little better than I did, because they still get treats at the end of pack meetings, but so far I haven’t seen any of the scouts forced to dress in drag.)

Last week my son had to go on a hike and pick up litter along the trail, so I took him and my younger son to Veterans Oasis Park in southeast Chandler. This park has 4.5 miles of hiking trails featuring desert landscape, so I figured it would give us lots of opportunity to both admire cactus and pick up discarded soda cans.

With a brand new 13-gallon drawstring garbage bag in hand we started our hike figuring by the end it would take all three of us to drag the sack back out. But apparently the good citizens of Chandler are cleaner than we banked on. Ten minutes into our hike looking both on the trail and off, we still hadn’t found any litter. On the one hand, I was glad that I live in a city with such cleanly folks, but on the other hand, I was hoping we’d have at least a few slobs to help out my kid’s project.

I had all but given up hope of finding any trash at all when my younger son shouted, “There!” and pointed to a spot about five feet to our left. The three of us slowly crept over to the spot as though we were stalking prey and then under a bush we saw it—a one-inch by one-inch clear piece of plastic that may or may not have been a food wrapper at one time in its life. While I wasn’t quite sure what it was, it was clear that it was not something that would occur naturally in the dessert and so could only be defined as litter. I had my older son put on his work gloves (the Cub Scout handbook explicitly states that for safety purposes one must always wear gloves when picking up litter) and put the miniscule piece of plastic into the trash bag. 

We all felt a great sense of accomplishment at having removed the offending trash—so much so, that we decided to reward ourselves by eating the granola bars we brought as snacks. Of course once we ate the bars we had to throw the wrappers into our 13-gallon garbage bag, giving us a great sense of accomplishment once again.

And so the morning went, with my eagle-eyed six-year-old spotting a piece of litter smaller than my thumb every ten minutes or so, my meticulous eight-year-old carefully putting on his gloves to throw it out, and all three of us generating more litter between us than we found in our entire two-hour hike.

By the end of our mission we were all exhausted. Two hours of hiking is a lot on the legs and the six times we had to bend down to pick up litter only compounded our bone-weariness. But at least my son got to check off “Requirement 7” in his Cub Scout handbook. Now if only there was a requirement in his handbook that would make him clean up his room.