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Please Remember Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout



In 1974, Shel Silverstein published a poem entitled, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.” The famous poem begins with Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout’s refusal to take the garbage out. By the time the poem ends, poor Sarah’s folly has caused her to “meet a terrible fate.”


If like me, you remember Shel Silverstein’s poem with fondness, you might also understand why my heart sank when I saw a recent news report describing a situation in Sedona, Arizona.


A couple of weeks ago, the state of Arizona decided that it was an acceptable risk to ignore the rise in COVID-19 cases in favor of the Memorial Day weekend’s economic benefits. Arizona got more than it bargained for in return. While the medical consequences were still 14 days in the future (we now have the highest single-day climb in COVID-19 cases in the nation), the real blowback came in the form of massive crowds descending on Arizona’s pristine public spaces and treating those areas like landfills.


I wish I could say that I was using hyperbole. Unfortunately, by the time volunteers finished cleaning up all the trash left behind (waste that included: toilet paper, used pregnancy tests, soda cans, and discarded PPE), the waste measured in the tons—yes, I said, “TONS.”


The wave of sadness that swept over me when I heard the news was unavoidable. Why do we still need to talk about the most basic principles like cleaning up after ourselves with everything happening in the world? Why do we continue to view the issues that impact everyone as “someone else’s responsibility?”


I realize that my disappointment and frustration is rooted in certain assumptions. For example, I assume that when we unwrap a candy bar in our living rooms, we don’t drop the wrapping on the floor and leave it there. I also assume that we don’t use feminine hygiene products and drop them in our showers. To that end, I still cannot understand why anyone would visit a beautiful outdoor space they want to continue to enjoy, and then turn around and leave it coated in filth for the next person. Say nothing about the damage and destruction these discarded items cause to our already fragile earth.


The steps are simple but crucial.


1. Throw trash away or pack it back out.


2. Bring an extra set of gloves to pick up any trash found on trails or shorelines.


3. Never assume that the cleanup of public spaces is for someone else to accomplish.


I will admit, I feel a little sheepish highlighting such simplistic reminders, but, if Sedona is any indication, there is a callous disregard for protecting our outdoor tourist destinations and other public gathering places. I will say it again—the world has enough on its plate without worrying whether we will all be choking on refuse in a few weeks.


Of course, our responsibility does not stop with the actions we take. We need to empower the next generation to keep parks, beaches, trails, and mountains picturesque for future decades. What are some of the primary ways we can accomplish this goal even during a pandemic?


1. Help young ones organize their own “cleanup day” (with COVID-19 safety practices in place).


2. Get involved with United States Forest Service (USFS) permitted companies like Trail Lovers Excursions (https://traillovers.com/) by joining their conservation activities or donating to their organizations.


3. Educate young people about post-consumer products that are dangerous for our environment.


I understand the vigorous desire to return to our friends and hobbies. However, those natural inclinations cannot be allowed to override the common decency and protections we extend to others and our planet. Small actions lead to significant changes—for better or for worse.


If these things still do not seem necessary, maybe it is time to go back to elementary school and reconnect with a girl there. Her name is Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.

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