Somehow my family and I missed clean-up day this year. We were distracted by other things, I guess. An extreme low tide and beautiful weather among them. Each spring, the chamber of commerce holds an event to encourage people to pick up trash, sweep sidewalks, wash store windows, and otherwise tidy up the town, just in time for the first big tourist event of the year: the Shorebird Festival. The chamber gives away sturdy plastic trash bags and prizes, and also collects meat and fish people are clearing out of their freezers and donates it to the food pantry.
Spring cleaning takes on real meaning here. Six months of winter leave our lives—our yards, streets, and sidewalks—a mess. A winter’s worth of trash blown by winds or tossed out of cars appears along roadsides in this season between snow cover and dense vegetation. The grit scattered by sand trucks covers everything.
So landscaping companies and bands of kids who want to raise money for their sports team or scout group hit parking lots in towns with brooms, and professionals with strange spinning brushes the size of ride-on lawnmowers comb the grit out of grass patches along parking lots and sidewalks. And now that it’s warm enough, volunteers fan out over town sprucing up beds along Homer’s main drag.
My husband and I usually participate in clean-up day, at least unofficially. We put on gloves and drag trash bags with us as we walk down the dead-end street from our house, picking up trash we’ve seen for months but haven’t had the wherewithal to deal with. We think this activity is a good lesson for our young daughters.
But the winter can leave us a mess in other ways. Sometimes it’s hard to fully grasp until the light is back, the birds return, and the world is greening up just how famished we were for those things. And we finally realize the energy that was required for months of positive thinking—all of that making do, putting up with, and seeing the glass half full when yet another freezing rainstorm descends on town, and it gets dark by three in the afternoon.
Cleaning up is an excuse to clear the slate and toss out the questions that might otherwise burn in us: How did we make it through those dark months? How can we be fond of this place when, for so much of the year, it’s silent, brown, and slicked in ice? Spring brings a kind of amnesia, allowing us to get rid of the concerns and contemplations winter knits in our minds. With gardening, fishing, adventuring, and clearing up, there’s just too much to do to be bothered by what has passed. Right now, I can barely imagine the feeling I get late in summer when part of me actually looks forward to fall, to slowing down, when the hems of darkness draw closer every day.
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