It started last spring when a reader called into the Newsleader office to ask, rather matter-of-factly when the staff was planning to clean up its two-mile stretch along County Road 3. After all, he assured us, the Newsleader name was on the Adopt-a-Highway signs bordering either end of the tract and we should be responsible for the work if we were getting the credit.
Incredulous, I called the Stearns County Highway Department who confirmed to us yes, indeed, we had agreed to clean the ditches on either side of this portion of road way back in 2007, that the commitment was for two-year stints and renewed automatically unless the county was notified, and that a former employee had signed us up for this, unbeknownst to the rest of the staff.
Not wanting to shirk my duties and assuming others would feel the same, I tried enthusiastically to pump up the rest of the staff to meet me for a few hours on a weekend in May. I said what a beautiful time of year to be outside enjoying the great outdoors with the rest of our working “family” and to share social time we don’t get a chance to do very often outside of work. When I received a lukewarm attitude at best, I suggested I’d treat all who participate to some pizza and libations following a satisfactory completion of the job.
I underestimated the amount of excuses one can hatch up and resolutely deliver. One had every weekend booked with wedding and baby showers, graduations, first communions and Mother’s Day. Subtracting the socialite off the list of potentials, I turned to another who said he has chronic foot pain so is unable to walk for any distance. OK so that may be legit. Understandably, I pressed on to another who said he was deathly afraid of ticks and wouldn’t venture into the meadows at this time of year. I finally pleaded with another who said her family of five would help with half if my family of four would do the rest. We had a deal.
I rounded up my grumbling family along with my daughter’s boyfriend who immediately jumped on board to help complete the effort. I thought, this is nice, spending some quality time together unplugged and greening up our earth. We even inherited a wayward kitten who was wandering around helplessly out by the road during the last leg of our journey.
That was last year; now fast-forward to this spring. The employee who helped last spring is no longer with the company. We’re down to three full-time staff, including myself. One was eight months pregnant on Earth Day and has since had a baby girl, another is a single mom who would have to hire a babysitter to participate. So that leaves my family to do the whole clean-up this time. When I brought it up, my husband rolled his eyes and politely refused. My 17-year-old daughter has a weekend job which requires her to stand for long periods of time so her legs are shot by the time she’s available.
Having called in every favor from those who helped last year, I resolved to do it myself last Sunday, on Earth Day and ask my 10-year-old son who’s an avid outdoorsman if he’d like to accompany me on the outing. He promptly agreed and suggested we round up some neighborhood kids as well. After a few calls to parents and a promise of Dairy Queen Blizzards once finished, we recruited two more boys, another 10-year-old and a 7-year-old.
We donned our florescent vests, grabbed our trash pokers and bags, and set out to conquer the world. It was a beautiful cool afternoon, a bit cloudy with a threat of rain but not once did we feel a raindrop. Within less than a mile, we had filled three large trash bags and were dragging our feet. I agreed, we had bitten off more than we could chew. And the ditches were more littered than we first anticipated.
We decided maybe we needed to split this up into a few different dates. I kept checking my pedometer to make sure we turned around approximately at the half-way mark so I didn’t tire the boys out too much. We spent three hours combing up and down the ditch on both sides of what I thought was a one-mile stretch but upon driving it later realized it wasn’t even quite a mile. After returning to the car, we clocked the odometer on our van and drove to the other sign which actually was three miles from the first sign.
So bedraggled and exhausted, we actually figured out we’d have to accomplish this two more separate times in order to complete the six-mile roundtrip. I asked the boys if they were up for this another weekend in the near future, and I didn’t get much response except a quiet humming from their snoring in the backseat.
Somehow I think I’m in big trouble the next time it comes to recruiting. If anyone’s interested, I’ll be out there again Sunday afternoon, May 6. At this point, you may be able to name your price, I’m feeling a bit desperate.