Dumpster diving for fun? This concept probably is not high on most people's idea of a fun thing to do. But Colorado author Laura Pritchett's preface and essay, titled "It Keeps the Heart Happy" would have us think otherwise.
In Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers, Pritchett has assembled personal stories from more than 20 authors, mostly from the American West, including Fort Lewis College professor Andrew Gulliford, that shed light on practices that go beyond the usual "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." This fascinating book is at once entertaining, educational and thought provoking.
Most readers are familiar with garage sales, but not everyone grasps the benefits of "Dumpster diving."
Pritchett and many of the authors wax eloquent over the spoils left by a society (ours) that covets new, improved possessions. The authors write with great emotion while describing some of the items left by others because of death, divorce or other more prosaic reasons.
Who knew there is a protocol for this practice of Dumpster diving? Pritchett shares tips about proper attire that must include gloves and old clothing to protect the diver. Useful tools include a short stepladder and a ski pole for poking. Anything found that can be recycled should be taken and disposed of properly, but never take items with names or ID to avoid being arrested for identity theft.
Two essays especially stand out as educational and emotional.
In the first, author Michael Engelhard writes about his friend Bart. Bart is a practitioner of Blacktop Cuisine and leaves little waste on the highways and byways near his Boulder home.
Considered a modern-day mountain man, Bart began his unusual cooking practice as an offshoot of his gathering roadkill for skins to use at his school of primitive skills. Surprisingly, laws regarding the collection of carcasses vary by state, and anyone moved to copy his recipe for say, Bobcat tamales, would do well to know local laws.
In the second notable essay, "Intimmensity," author Eliza Murphy highlights the alarming implications for our planet by addressing the giant plastic island known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." This man-made debris field is twice the size of Texas and floats in the Pacific Ocean. The toxins and plastic kill more than a million sea birds a year. This trash is no treasure, but it is a tragedy that boggles the mind by its sheer mass and impact.
Murphy's way of dealing with the endless supply of plastic is to create sculptural installations that utilize her massive amount of beach finds into art.
Pritchett has structured the essays into three parts to help focus the book, but there is some overlap.
Part I: Good Circulation: Gleaning Food and Things mainly deals with the notion that one man's trash is another's treasure. Part II covers home recycling, gleaning from and for our homes. Part III Teach Me: Gleaning for and from People is Pritchett's vision of a search for information, understanding and the ways all people connect. It is this section that has the least cohesiveness and appeal.
This book is a delightful, sometimes humorous and eye-opening read that can generate lively discussions about our eagerness to buy into new "green" practices while rejecting good, old-fashioned, yet equally green practices of our grandparents. They used, reused and repurposed, bought only what they needed and lived lightly on the land.
Reading about the eager gleaning and waste-not lives of some of the authors might cause some readers guilt. But upon reflection, finding creative ways to reduce our possessions, impact and especially our waste can be a rewarding and invigorating challenge. This book should be read and shared with the young people in our lives; after all, their turn is coming up next.
Lesile Doran is a local freelance writer whose book reviews have appeared in The Denver Post, numerous magazines and other publications. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.