Magpies of the world unite

Michael Johansen
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"Dad says you can take anything you want," one of my neighbours told me, "but there's something I want."
I guessed what it was.
"The square green gas can?"
"Yeah," she said. "The jerrycan. Dad says it came from a plane crash."
I had been driving by on my bike (enjoying a sunny, but bizarrely chilly spring day) when I noticed that my neighbour had added to a pile of scrapped machine parts and other garbage he had started just outside his gate.
One glance at an old three-
handled gasoline container (it had the letters "U.S.M.C." moulded into the pressed steel of one side) was enough for me: I had to stop and ask if he minded if I took away some of his discarded stuff. Naturally (having asked), I let the historic jerrycan stay with the family.
The cans were invented by the Germans and copied by the Allies for use in the Second World War, and there still are many of them hiding in garages around Labrador.
But I did not go away empty-handed.
My neighbour had cleared everything he didn't need out of one of his sheds and I had no trouble proving a certain old and well-known adage: what's garbage to one can truly be treasure to another.
This time of year, such street-side piles are growing everywhere: scraps of rotting lumber, wooden boats sawn into pieces, comfy chairs spewing soggy stuffing and sprung springs, rickety barbecues with buckling legs, bicycles and tricycles with missing wheels.
There's copper pipes, drywall, electrical wires, food wrappings, lawn clippings, bags of leaves, cardboard boxes, wooden boxes, windows, doors, chairs, tables and cupboards.
You'll see rugs, carpets, rolls of linoleum, roofing tiles, washing machines, driers, fridges, stoves and even a kitchen sink or two.
It can all be found free for the taking, if you're so inclined. It's big garbage month in Labrador - otherwise known as spring cleanup time.
Say what you want about snow, but when it falls long and deep, it does a great job hiding anything we might throw outdoors on a winter day.
That ugly old couch, for example (it was fine in the rec room for a while, but you got a new one for the living room and no one needs three chesterfields) has been out of sight and out of mind for months, but now the thaw has revealed it to the world (and to the neighbours), so out to the street it goes.
Naturally, residents can't throw their old couches - and all the other unwanted things that have emerged from their yards, sheds, garages and basements - to the side of the road willy-nilly. Spring cleanup is a major municipal operation. The schedules are clear and rigorously followed.
If a council could send a couple of drivers around their town with a dump truck and a front-end loader whenever it needed, the job would be easy (disregarding the expense and the property damage caused by using the heavy equipment), but hauling away big garbage is a task better done once a year by workers with strong backs.
This being Labrador, it's a thousand kilometres or more to the nearest recycling centre. Since the only people who can divert things from the waste stream are unofficial scavengers (like myself and others who can't seem to help themselves), just about everything goes to the dump - even valuable scrap metal and usable paper and cardboard.
There's some segregation in central Labrador's regional landfill - household garbage goes to one area, old appliances and car wrecks to another, bricks and rubble to a third - but essentially wherever it's dumped it'll just be buried and forgotten, no matter if it's just a rotting couch, or really some kind of treasure.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Who covets more, is evermore a slave. ~Robert Herrick

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Who covets more, is evermore a slave. ~Robert Herrick