By Robin Mayo
This little piece of wisdom, scrawled on a sticky note and stuck on a wall near my desk, has inspired me to start carrying buckets and a shovel in my car. Every day on my way home from work I stop and toss 3 shovelfulls of gravel into each bucket. Then I stop at one of the many potholes on my subdivision road, pour in the gravel, kick it around a little to level it, load the buckets back in the car, and drive on home. The entire escapade takes less than 10 minutes, and the results are slow but tangible.
The whole project started this spring, when the snow melted and we had to face the reality of our ravaged road. As I do every spring, I contemplated inviting all the neighbors over for coffee and taking up a collection for gravel. But I just couldn’t quite get up the gumption to call the meeting.
There is a history of cooperative road work in our neighborhood, so it isn’t too outlandish a notion. I’m fairly sure that some of the neighbors would contribute. I also suspect some would not. Most of all, I loathe the idea of being responsible for calling a contractor and translating the good intentions into real improvements. I really don’t want to be the one the neighbors call when they think the road needs work, or complain to if the work does not meet their expectations. Our neighborhood isn’t much to look at but we get along pretty well, and my strategy for keeping it that way is to mind my own business. I also drive the lowest clearance vehicle in the neighborhood, so may feel the problem most acutely.
Thus the buckets. I started by filling several deep, wide, hard to miss trenches where I regularly scraped the bottom of my little car. It took a couple of weeks of daily deposits, but felt great when it was done. My approach since then has been random, non-strategic, but very satisfying. Some days I choose small potholes, and can level off several with one load of gravel. The buckets are heavy at 1/3 full, so the 6 I’ve been carrying add up to 10 gallons of gravel total. Other days I stop by one of the large, gaping maws, and pour in all 6 buckets. The level comes up an inch, and I experience a nice little surge of accomplishment.
At this rate, it will be several summers before the road is truly smooth. But I’m no longer bottoming out regularly, and it’s been enjoyable to just do this little self-assigned task without talking about it (until now.)
It’s also been enlightening to look at life through this lens of “one bucket at a time,” and see where else I might make a small but real difference. The last couple of days at WISE we’ve been at schools doing the Changing Seasons program with second and third graders. As we walked through the woods learning to use binoculars and identify birds, I wondered what the future consequences of this day might be. Perhaps one of these students will become an ornithologist, inspire their whole family to take up birdwatching, or help a species avoid extinction.
What “bucket at a time” project could you take on to help make our little corner of the world a better place for all? I’d love to hear some of the grassroots efforts happening around the Copper River Basin, and will share them in a future column. Robin@wise-edu.org
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.