By American standards Amanda and I don’t normally generate much garbage. Amanda is fanatic about her recycling, and we buy less packaged goods than most folks, so a typical week’s garbage is a small bag or two. Now all of that is changing.

We’re now routinely filling up a garbage can on a weekly basis from our home in Vestavia Hills, as we plow through the detritus of 26 years of suburban family living. And even our new accelerated garbage production pales in comparison to the massive amount of debris generated from the building of the pole barn.

Before we ever laid eyes on Longleaf Breeze, it had functioned as (a) the place for teenagers (and perhaps others) to come and drink – and leave their garbage; and (b) the place for nearly everyone else to come just to leave their garbage. Amanda and I are slowly picking up the piles of crap left over the years. The biggest pile we found was also the most accessible, which is why we’ve used it as a central depository for all the debris from the property.

pile-before-for-blogWe bought Longleaf Breeze in May of 2007 and have been picking up trash on it reasonably steadily since then. A few front-end bucket loads here and a few front-end bucket loads there, and pretty soon you’re talking about an impressive array of stuff nobody wants. The pile when we started yesterday measured about 22 feet long, about 12 feet deep, and at its peak about eight feet high.

We blocked out the day but got started late, about 10:00 am. We first built a fire so we could burn the wood and cardboard in the pile, which turned out to be a good decision. We lost track of how much of the pile was composed simply of scrap lumber, but it was a lot. Why is it that you go through so much lumber building a structure these days?

Amanda tended the fire all day, adding to it not only the lumber from the pile but random sticks and branches from the area around the fire. While she did that I started working my way through the pile, picking up whatever I could and throwing it in Tractor’s bucket for the brief (about 75 feet) trip from the pile to the construction dumpster. It was like a trip through the archives of Longleaf Breeze, arranged in reverse chronological order for our viewing enjoyment. First the extra wood flooring, then the empty paint cans, then the drywall joint compound, and so on, as we worked our way back to the early days before there was even a pole barn standing.

Amid everything, mixed in and intertwined, was plastic. Yards and yards of plastic wrap, plastic garbage bags, and plastic wrapping. When I was a small child, I remember how proud I was of the book satchel my father brought home to me from one of his clients, the American Trucking Association. It bore the now famous slogan, “If you’ve got it, a truck brought it!” Although this is even more true today than it was when I was a kid, it’s ripe for a corollary: “If you’ve got it in America, it came wrapped in plastic.” We were pleased to see that at least one or two of the garbage bags must have been made of biodegradable plastic; after only a few months in the sun, they were already breaking down into little fragments, which we assume were well on their way to disintegrating completely. Most of what we found yesterday, though, was robust, strong, supple and tenacious. Built for the ages!

awb-with-full-dumpster-for-blogNow I understand why archeologists are so fond of examining the garbage of the civilizations they are studying. You can learn a great deal from studying people’s refuse. Study our garbage and you will learn that we, like so many other Americans, throw away a staggering array of arguably useful components. Here’s a sturdy piece of angle iron cut from the trusses forming our pole barn. There’s a nice big cardboard box that could have been used to inhibit the growth of weeds in the garden or at least mulched as part of compost. This is from others, not us, but here’s a washing machine, two stoves, and untold numbers of shoes, most without mates. Did the slob who dumped this stuff have only one leg?

And the lumber. Look at all the lumber we threw away!

Yesterday was an unpleasant day indeed for a colony of ants, about five colonies of wasps, and one lone mouse who retaliated for the indignity we visited on him (her?) by terrifying Amanda. We didn’t move as fast as we would have liked, because we have learned to respect wasps. We love having them around our garden, because they’re excellent predators. And given the ability to leave them alone, we would have been happy for them to stay on in the garbage pile. Unfortunately, though, that arrangement no longer worked. We were destroying their habitat, and we needed to make sure we did it in a manner that would minimize the risk of injury. I’m happy to report that we got through the entire day (and a near holocaust for the poor wasps) with no stings.

lee-where-pile-was-for-blogAt the end of the day we spent a great deal of time picking through the remains of the pile with our gloved hands, shoveling into Tractor’s bucket hands full of dirt mixed with glass, nails, screws, and miscellaneous junk. Then Tractor smoothed over the site with his box blade, leaving it even, clean, and looking — as Amanda said — “normal.” It’s hard to believe, because the tree had to be trimmed significantly to get access to the pile, but I’m standing here on the same spot you see above where the pile was centered at the beginning of the day.

Amanda’s planning to plant some shade-tolerant flowering plants like azaleas or hydrangeas on our new little bare spot as soon as there’s a good chance they’ll stay healthy, because after all, this is part of our front entrance. We want it to look welcoming!

clean-ground-w-fire-for-blogYou can see the fire burning in the background with the remains of all that lumber and cardboard, plus one big stump that ended up for some reason at the bottom of the pile. Next week, we’ll go around the property collecting a few more straggling bits of trash, and yes, we’ll pick up the cracked toilet some ass dropped on our land within the last few days. Then we’ll call Advanced Disposal and let them come back and pick up the dumpster. Thus will close another chapter in our continuing journey.

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