What lies beneath

If you don’t pick up the crap (from dogs and politicians alike) outside your house, sooner or later it comes inside

I’m writing this column during one of those sudden March thaws when we go from dead-of-winter to mid-May in 72 hours or less.

By now, I’ve lived through dozens of these thaws. But I still never get over the shock of such sudden exposure.

One day, I look out the window and see Antarctica, i.e., our yard, covered in deep, white snow -- everything frozen, quiet and seemingly pristine.

Two days later, I look out the window and see life emerging, in all its unwashed glory and ruin, including the long-lost blue snow shovel, three basketballs in various states of deflation, a volleyball, two tennis balls, three playground balls, one football, a baseball missing its leather cover, a heavy plastic base, a bungie cord with one hook missing, three plastic sleds, an unstrung badminton racket, half of a blue, plastic Easter egg, pieces of roof shingles, the metal “H” frame from a political lawn sign, a partially shredded badminton cock, three soggy paper airplanes, two Frisbees, a broken squirt-gun, half a jump-rope, a smashed pen, a torn toy parachute, the remains of a votive candle, a badly-chewed green plastic paratrooper who apparently fell into enemy jaws, two magnetic marbles, a long piece of duct tape, a Tootsie Pop wrapper, at least 20 rubber bands, plus much more and far worse.

In addition to boys, we have a dog. A big one. So you can imagine what else was out there. I mean, we’re talking loads of it. All over the lawn. Which bothers me because I tend to be the Martha Stewart of poop-scooping-fastidious, compulsive and pro-active. It’s the only area of my life where I attempt paragon status. And I only do it as a form of self-defense.

Because I’ve learned if you don’t pick up the crap outside your house, sooner or later it comes inside your house, usually on the bottom of someone’s shoe, only they don’t realize it until they’ve dashed upstairs to the bedroom to grab this One Little Thing, which they then remember is actually under the chair in the living room, but turns out to be in the basement laundry room. And it’s only here, at the end of an epic journey, which has now covered two flights of carpeted stairs, a hallway, a quick stop in the bathroom, a detour to another bedroom to see if the One Little Thing is in that closet, followed by a pass through the kitchen to grab some milk out of the refrigerator and then finally down to the laundry room, where the seeker begins sniffing the air and suddenly realizes that he or she has earlier stepped in something truly vile.

Which is how I became so quick on the draw when the snow starts melting. So I was out in the yard this weekend, armed with plastic bags. It was nasty, but I’ve seen worse. At 10, I acquired a crazy young German shorthaired pointer who had spent most of his life on a chain and was desperate to run. So every day, as part of his rehab, I took him, plus three or four of my neighbors’ Labs and retrievers, on long walks through the fields and woods behind our house in Arden Hills.

I was an intense, young animal-lover, deeply moved by the death of Bambi’s mother. So it’s sort of ironic I ended up with this pack of natural-born killers who went after every rabbit, muskrat, squirrel, woodchuck and gopher that crossed their path. Back at home, I pried a never-ending parade of half-eaten carcasses out of the dogs’ jaws and buried whatever was left. But then winter came. The ground froze. So I started stuffing the corpses under the snow. Out of sight. Out of mind.

Until we had one of those sudden March thaws. The snow vanished while I sat in my fourth-grade classroom. As I got off the bus, kids pointed towards my house and started to scream.

It was a scene of total carnage. Decaying bodies were strewn everywhere, as if an army of rabbits (with a few squirrel and woodchuck recruits) had fought the Battle of Gettysburg in our front yard. Flocks of crows were noisily descending for the feast. I spent the rest of the afternoon filling plastic garbage bags.

I thought about that scene as I picked up the piles and debris in my yard this weekend. It ain’t glamorous work, but it’s honest, and it made me realize that the rule about if you don’t pick up the crap outside your house, sooner or later it comes inside applies to a lot more than just dog poop.

We’re living through a political climate in which the guys in charge of our state and country are choosing to slash health care, parks, bus service, cops, libraries, schools -- I mean, you name it, they’re killing it. All in the name of preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest, most powerful and comfortable. And then there’s the war.

It’s all quite a snow job. And the real pain hasn’t hit home yet. So on the surface, things still look the same --maybe even seemingly pristine. But when the thaw finally comes (and it always does), we’re going to find a lot of bodies, crap and ruined stuff in our yards. Only our current leaders probably won’t be out there with their plastic bags, bending over in the mud.

Nope, that will be our job. Nasty work. Nothing glamorous.

What gives me hope, in the long run of history, is what lies beneath all the mud and the brown grass. You can’t see it yet. But the roots are there, and the grass is ready to spring up, fresh and green.

Lynnell Mickelsen is a Linden Hills writer. You can reach her at LynnellM@hotmail.com or c/o the Southwest Journal.