One of the things Rick and I have done, from the very start, since moving here, is to walk fairly regularly. We try to avoid the “main drag,” especially in summer and winter. We have easy access from that highway to our cross-street, and thence to our quiet little road. In summer, the roar of, and speed of the traffic on the highway makes walking  unpleasant.  In winter, the plow doesn’t clear far enough from the roadway to make it safe. For part of the year, we limit ourselves to mostly our little road. We live at the intersection where the cross-street meets the beginning of our road; at the other end, it loops back to the highway. There and back gives us a walk of just over two miles, without having to deal with traffic.

Our road is very local. There’s a cluster of homes at each end. The middle doesn’t even have power, which has kept it wild, and beautiful. The only heavy traffic we see is in the summer, when tourists on bicycles use it as an alternative route, to avoid the  highway traffic. Indeed, our road is so quiet that we look up from what we’re doing when vehicles pass. We have a nodding acquaintance with our neighbors–and I mean just that–when they drive by, we nod, or wave. We’re not very social, but we do that. Despite living here for years now, we’re still considered “the new people,” and we haven’t made more than a handful of actual friends.

It became clear, as soon as we started walking, that our route needed some regular maintenance. Apparently folks haven’t yet learned that the countryside is not their trash can. About quarterly, we do the walk bearing trash bags to pick up all the litter that accumulates along the roadside. It’s surprising how much we get. It’s surprising just what people throw out the windows as they speed by.

There’s the expected cigarette butts. (Make no mistake, this kind of trash is not just unsightly, it’s poisonous to wildlife, and if in water, can be deadly to fish.) There’s candy wrappers, and clamshell to-go containers, even pizza boxes. Sometimes we’ll find brand-name beverage cups, McDonald’s or Burger King–even though there are none of these outlets in our county. Junk travels. Most shocking to me is how many liquor bottles and beer cans we find–evidence of drinking and driving.

We also find construction debris, and automobile parts. Are these cars just falling apart as they whizz by? More than once, we’ve collected more than we can carry, and we have to take a second run at it. We find the bulk of the trash on the highway and on our cross-street, which bear heavier traffic. But even our quiet little road through the forest gets its share. Spring is our heftiest harvest, the retreating snows revealing a winter of sins. This is when we find most of the liquor bottles–people on snowmobiles out for a good time.

Labor Day is another regular trash run, cleaning up the excesses of the tourist season. We’ll do a couple of lighter runs if things look messy, and we’re always picking up beer cans.

If you do this, year in, year out, in a particular location you get to know the patterns of a neighborhood. Sure, the snowmobile crowd leaves their particular type of trash, as do the summer tourists with their to-go food. But some of this is specifically local. By this, I mean beer cans. Collecting this kind of trash gives you an entirely different view of the traffic. There’s a lot of impaired driving out there.

We have one particular offender. This guy (and unfairly, we’ve always assumed it was male) drinks cheap beer that comes in a blue can. He’s local. His litter is not seasonally dependent. We can even chart his path–since the cans most specifically line our cross-street, a particular stretch of highway and our little road. For years, we’ve been picking up his cans. I always mused that it was an expensive habit–even if you just counted the foregone deposits on all those cans. Rick’s theory was that he tossed the cans so that he wouldn’t have a vehicle full of empties–in case he was pulled over. I thought he was concealing his habit from family. Either way, recycling takes a back seat to privacy when you have something to hide.

And so, over the years, we’ve debated, creating a fictional profile for our most durable litterbug. We’ve wondered what we’d say if ever confronted by this guy who so regularly soils our landscape. Until yesterday.

Yesterday was beautiful, a mid-winter break from our regular gloom. The sun came out and lit up the snowscape with brilliant vivid clarity. It was cold, but spectacular, a perfect day for a walk. I guess everyone thought so, because our little road was filled with the footprints of walkers. (It’s the sort of thing you notice if you’re a regular.) We marched up our little road, marveling at the light on the snow. Near the the other end we encountered a truck–it’s not unheard of to see a vehicle while we walk, but it’s notable. Rick waved, and so did I, as we do. Except that Rick actually identified the driver. A friend from town. Rick was surprised that he didn’t stop, roll down the window and engage in local banter, as folks do. He commented that it was odd for him to use our road. I defended, because, it’s a lot prettier than the highway, even if out of his way.

On our return, we found it. A single blue beer can in the middle of the road. It hadn’t been there when we’d passed on the way out. We hadn’t encountered any other vehicles on our walk. In a sad way, things fell into place. It all made perfect sense. We’d always wondered what we’d say, and now we know… we won’t say anything.