For the 10th consecutive spring, Outdoors Editor Steve Pollick has been out along the region's rural roadsides, picking up litter. Following is this year's annual Ditchpig Report:
It's not much of a way to honor the centennial of America's 540 national wildlife refuges, playing strip poker out in front of one.
But what else could you conclude, given what a ditchpig crew found recently along State Rt. 2 in Ottawa County?
It was right in front of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the adjoining Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area.
Here's the evidence: A deck of playing cards strewn in the ditches, one or two at a time, along a mile or more of roadside. A teal-color brassiere. A copy of Xcitement magazine, with its bare-butt cover and a back cover advertising a supposedly popular Toledo-area nudie bar.
Not to mention the empty blister-pack for a Czech-made “Royal Metallic Platinum” vibrator. Decorum prevents a recitation of the appliance package's lurid advertising testimonials.
Go figure. If it wasn't strip poker behind the wheel, then what?
If you find the foregoing descriptions offensive, good. But it is what is out there, what you would have found had you been with us. It is sad evidence of what we are - or are not - as a culture.
Still, discarded porn junk and sex toys are just part of the roadside detritus that a relative handful of earthkeepers are faced with when they volunteer to do the dirty work of cleaning up after human pigs - no offense to the hog family of domestic animals.
These earthkeepers are conservation-minded folks who love their planet, not moral and physical trash. They give up their Saturday mornings, or whenever, to collect litter from roadsides across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
In this case, the Adopt-A-Highway collectors were from the Oak Harbor-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Because of the presence of yours truly, the Ditchpig King, others in the BSBO crew by association have become burdened with the “ditchpig” label.
Whatever the nicknames, there are many other such stalwart groups, getting down and dirty to try to help the country live up to the oft-tarnished image of “America the Beautiful.”
Not that porn was the only material left by the wayside. Denny Blausey of Gibsonburg found a rusty crescent wrench. It will be good as new, he added, with a little solvent and oil. He also found some still useful rubber tarp-straps, no doubt blown off of a semi's load.
“They're still live,'' Blausey said, stretching one of the straps. He signed on to the crew with his spouse, Wendy, who says she enjoys the cleanup sessions for the camaraderie and good-natured joking.
You have to have a good sense of humor to prevent becoming cynical in such filthy work. An armor-plated constitution also helps.
“A woman in a minivan - with kids in it - littered right in front of me,” noted Kim Fredritz of Carey. She drove 50 miles to join the BSBO ditch crew. And get littered on.
Jim Mollenkopf, a Toledo author and a BSBO ditchpig regular, allowed that he found a pack of duMaurier cigarettes - compliments, no doubt, of Canadian commerce or visitors.
Others in the crew included Dan Frisk, manager of the Ottawa refuge complex; Andy Pollick, who came all the way home from graduate school at Columbia just to help his dad in the ditches (right!), and Mark and Julie Shieldcastle, research director and executive director, respectively, of BSBO.
Julie also is the official Ditchpig Queen, and Provider of home-baked cookies and soft drinks. These for the after-ditch social recovery session. So it's not all bad, folks.
Amid 15 or 20 other garbage bags of trash collected from the roadway in front of Ottawa and Magee were golf balls, a box of someone's unopened mail - weather worn and soaked and torn. Even a vintage Coca-Cola ash tray. (Cleaned up, it now holds assorted nuts and bolts on my work bench).
Plus a load of the usual: pieces-parts from motor-vehicle wrecks, fast-food packaging, beer and pop containers, and other leavings of the convenience-store generation.
Fifteen to 20 bags in all, neatly left bermside for Ohio Department of Transportation crews to pick up.
So for a while, at least, the road in front of the refuge will be worthy of the wild wetlands it passes.