Many Pagans describe their religion as “Earth-Centered.” I’ve found this a rather puzzling statement since I wouldn’t describe my path as that way and I don’t usually see much difference between the actions of Pagans and non-Pagans in regard to the earth. I hear a marked difference how they talk about the earth as sacred, but as my mother taught me, “If you want to know what a person really believes and values, watch their actions and ignore their words.” I don’t know, I don’t think we show by our actions that we are any more or less “Earth-Centered” than any other group in the US.
Which is why I was excited by the prospect of picking up garbage with a group of fellow Pagans last Sunday. The group is the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance, UMPA for short. They used to sponsor a 2 mile stretch of highway out by Anoka under Minnesota’s Adopt a Highway Program. Now they have claimed a section of 35E near Hugo. Last Sunday was the first time UMPA cleaned their new bit of interstate.
I was delayed by work and arrived on scene about an hour late. A group of five had already donned their attractive safety vests, put on work gloves, grabbed trash bags and sticks, and were picking up trash along side the North-bound lane. Judy gave me safety tips, helped me suit up, and then John joined us to do the South-bound lane.
The day was beautiful. About 78F and sunny. We talked with one another and exchanged community news and bits of information from our respective religious paths. While the conversation and the day were pleasant, what we were picking up wasn’t. Pop cans, cigarette butts, pieces of cars, and other junk filled our bags. Although Judy remarked that this road had much less garbage on it than the road UMPA used to clean, it was still a dismaying amount of waste. A bit of wisdom from my father came to mind, “Don’t shit in your own nest.”
As we walked and I stooped to pick up an empty cigarette pack, a dead bird caught my eye. It looked like it was taking a nap and I was slightly depressed after seeing it. Not only do we carelessly throw garbage out our windows while driving, our roads take a toll on animals just trying to survive. This poor bird was just flying along, perhaps swooping down to get some grit on the side of the road, when she was hit by a car. I hate that my habits, like driving, cause things like this to happen, but in all honestly I don’t hate it enough to change much of what I do. Nor do I see roads and cars as inherently evil, but I think we do too much of a good thing in the USA.
I did get the impression that what we were doing was appreciated. Motorists honked and waved at us as they drove by. We were also shown appreciation, or at least approval, by two omens. Hellenic Pagans tend to take omens seriously and we consider them carefully to interpret the will of the Gods. Our group (Judy, John and I) found a deer antler. It was laying in the grass, not far from the faint remains of who it used to be attached to, as if it was a gift. Unlike the bird, this didn’t feel sad. We felt blessed. John took the antler home with him. The other group (Nels, Theresa, George, Joshua, and Tamara), walking on the other side of the interstate, found a dollar bill. I saw these as direct gifts from Hermes as He tends to watch over travelers and the roads are His domain. To find two such positive omens in one day was amazing!
The end was finally in sight and my knees were thankful. I like to think I’m 20, but at 40 I’m starting to get aches and pain from activity. I don’t complain out loud because people are quick to tell me how much it will suck when I’m older. Who needs cheering up like that? I’ve been at it for three hours and everyone else has been picking up garbage for four. It didn’t seem to take that long. Despite finding the bird and being disgusted at the amount of garbage, it really was a great way to spend part of my day. I felt like I had accomplished something and I got to meet new people. What I really enjoyed was being in the company of people who describe the earth as sacred while they were treating Her as sacred.
This is the last highway clean up until the Spring. I’m sure once the snow melts there will be a ton of garbage littering our piece of I-35E and I will be there to help pick it up.