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Parable of the Dumpster 

Turns out trash-hoarding is no substitute for our small, beautiful society

We'd planned to hit the HSU dumpsters. We'd hoped to score some goodies tossed by departing students too burdened with finals and moving to do anything other than get rid of as much as possible. Bob O. had done this before. It would be my first time. I wondered what I would find. A nice chair? A plethora of three-hole binders? Bob Marley posters? A TV? I have no idea what life in the dorms is like and can't envision being able to just chuck items of value for the sake of convenience. But everyone says that's what happens. Visions of returning home triumphant from scoring unfurled in my mind. From scoring what, I wasn't sure. I also wasn't sure what to hope for. Typically I'm trying to declutter and unjunk my own home, not add to the stuff overwhelming what space is left. Must be the thrill of acquiring something for nothing.

Unfortunately, these questions remain unanswered. Bob's pre-diving scoping mission revealed the university had planned for freeloaders like us. The dumpsters were under guard. "Nothing good there yet, anyway," he reassured me. The next day brought rain, rain and more rain, further dampening our enthusiasm.

The following morning, an e-mail from Bob arrived: He had actual work to do.

Ah, such disappointment. But you can't blame a man for attending to his job in lieu of digging through trash. Besides, another friend had a number for me, a way to contact a friend of her who'd, in surfing parlance, "gone feral." In other words, mostly escaped from cultural domesticity and the constraints inherent within it, returning instead to a wilder, more natural state.

I've read a bunch about the freeganism movements (an anti-consumerist lifestyle based largely around gleaning the minimum necessities rather than purchasing them -- see in various big cities, and looked forward to tripping around Arcata's back alley dumpsters with my guide. I'd explained that I write this column and was looking for "someone who had chosen a path outside of the typical American lifestyle" to write about. Once again, though, my dream evaporated. She didn't want to talk to me, much less hang out. She was quite polite about not wanting to talk to me -- but also quite sure she did not, at all, want to talk to me. About anything. And no, she didn't think anyone else she knew would want to, either.

I had to move on. Specifically, to a Saturday morning yard sale. This was my turn to put my unneeded goods -- in a perfect society, we'd have no such thing as extraneous belongings -- out into the world. I'm saving and raising money to send my daughter to Germany on a three-week exchange next month. This wasn't an easy prospect financially, but the opportunity to offer her a travel experience ... Well, isn't that what parents do? Try to provide for their children what they never had? A chance to go off in the world for some adventure and perspective seems too important to pass up.

Expectations hovered at low. We didn't have any so-called big-ticket items, mostly just semi-cute clothes and random kitchen tools. We did have prime location, thanks to a friend in Arcata loaning us his grass. But, once again, HSU thwarted me by scheduling graduation on the very same day as my yard sale. "You should try to do this when the students are just coming back," a passerby helpfully explained. (I think I should also try to do this with a bunch of other people and a steady supply of margaritas to make it more fun, if still not as profitable.) We sold enough to pay for breakfast at Los Bagels and called it good, donating the remains along the way home. Someone appreciates those beige sandals, I'm sure.

The next morning, other people's discards reentered my life via a Surfrider Humboldt Mad River Beach clean-up. Yuck. How people can leave their trash behind boggles my mind. Shoving it all into landfill-bound plastic bags isn't the ideal alternative, but is still better, if only aesthetically. (And I did score a cute beanie and pink tank top. They're kinda gross now, but one spin through the hot wash cycle and no one will ever know.)

I followed the Mad River Beach clean-up with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers Spring Farm Tour (see Back in February, a portion of our tax refund went immediately to the DeepSeeded farm, run by Eddie Tanner. We're about to reap the results of that wise investment (take that, Wall Street losers!). You can still get in -- even if you don't have the $624 (26 weeks of a basket of veggies that'll feed five) right off, you can put down a $50 deposit and work out the rest (more info at or even save up and at least get in on the $160 wintertime share. Or check into some of the other Community Supported Agriculture opportunities -- definitely hit the Farmers' Markets. You're saving money, getting the best food and voting with your dollars regarding one of the most important political issues of our time: the effects of agriculture on our health, economy and environment. I'm pretty sure it beats digging through dumpsters. I'm certain strolling through future grain fields tucked away in the Arcata Bottom, with warm sunshine and a light breeze, zucchini muffins and barley scones, offered far more of what I needed than anything I might have collected from the post-graduation detritus.

When I first put finger to keyboard, I thought this column would be about garbage and gleaning. It still sort of is, but between dawn and dusk, the theme returned to community. And at the end of the day, isn't that what truly divides us between rich and poor? To share the wise words a friend offered: "I've been working really hard on remembering to reach out. Share my worries. Lighten my emotional load by sharing my worries and guilt with a friend over a (cheap) beer. Let my family know when I'm about to snap and need a break (before I snap). Have more potlucks. More BBQs. More sharing resources. More bartering, less buying. Laughter and conversation and board games and jokes and special notes go a long way to alleviate stress."

So my advice this go-round is to follow hers. Call up a friend. Make a date. Call up a few friends. You make the casserole, ask someone to bring salad, someone to bring dessert and someone to bring wine. Commiserate and celebrate. Heck, maybe even plan a neighborhood yard sale -- when the students are back in town.

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About The Author

Jennifer Savage

Jennifer Savage

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