Edward Strickler: ‘The sayings of the sepulchral sage’

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Through daily walks in 2023, my husband and I picked up 17 cubic yards of litter in Farmville, enough to overfill 4 standard ‘4 cubic yard’ dumpsters. Trash tells stories and uncovers mysteries. We’ve shared some in prior columns. And many mysteries remain: litter appears daily, but who is littering? Are there garbage goblins in empty lots? Alcoholic beverage containers are a big part of the volume; and packaging for nicotine products are very frequent: Do we need to pay more attention to addiction and emotional well being in our community? 

We uncovered, but did not solve, some mysteries. Like the pile of children’s toys stacked up in a patch of woods and, ‘Sayings of the sepulchral sage’: we found many small quadrangles cut out of ruled notebook paper, blowing around one cemetery – with sayings, quotes, Bible verses, or single words. 

For example, ‘Honor’ ‘A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer, Bruce Lee’, ‘redress, to set something right, to make amends for’, ‘I’m innocent’. Cemeteries carry stories about our past into the future like ships through time; so it shouldn’t be surprising to find notes from the living, the dead, or beings in between. But they are not law abiding beings if they litter. 

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There are laws about littering. Farmville Town ordinance states (Chapter 17 – Nuisances, Article II – Trash control) that Trash (‘ garbage, refuse, litter, or debris openly lying on any parcel‘) “shall constitute a public nuisance. It shall be unlawful for the owner or occupant of real property to permit the accumulation thereon of any trash. It shall be the joint and several duty of the owner and occupant of any parcel to immediately remove or destroy any and all trash from his or her parcel.” 

That certainly is not happening. The Town’s budget expects over $360,000 revenue from ‘Utility taxes’ (that includes taxes on residents for weekly trash pickup), less than 3% of a $14,390,195 budget. The budgeted amount for a garbage truck is over $150,000, nearly half of what utility taxes bring in. So perhaps the Town cannot manage greater litter control: it’s a labor intensive activity and labor is expensive, unless volunteered. But ensuring that Town ordinances are observed – perhaps starting with absentee land owners (who own but don’t live on a property) – would be a start; and fines might add to the Town’s revenue. 

My husband and I communicated with town officials, health system officials, shopping center property owners, corporate franchise managers, and others. The town has added receptacles in some Town parks (with thanks to Town employees, who keep parks safe and clean, the Town horticulturalist who keeps planting new trees and keeps flowers through the season, and Town administration who plan and budget, to keep parks updated, with a soon new ‘splash’ pad and planned new skate park!). 

But promised receptacles in other areas have not yet appeared. There is still lots of smoking in places where the hospital posts, prominently, ‘No Smoking’ signs. Some shopping centers have noticeably improved. But some corporate franchise managers never bothered to respond. 

We also picked up trash in areas of the County but are not reporting about that here, other than to observe that on some primary routes into the Town – and into the business park area where County and Town need to attract excellent new businesses (for employment and revenue and community investment), the litter is so deep, and piled up, it looks like whitecaps about to break over the road way. 

Local folks may no longer see it; but won’t newcomers we need and want to invest here and live here see it? What do the parents of prospective students at our historic men’s college, Hampden Sydney, think? We don’t see the litter but I bet they do. H-S was founded 1775, before we told the British king bye bye; but I’m guessing litter that old might be in the piles lining the roads near the college (heads up to antique bottle hunters) 

How about this suggestion: can the Town set aside, or find a source, to fund neighborhood volunteer teams for occasional litter patrols? To provide litter grabbers (the cheapest ones are about $10 each), bags, and perhaps printed caps for each neighborhood team (about $7/ cap)? This could build Town pride. 

Let’s encourage our different neighborhoods to learn and work together for a common problem: litter. And we all could become a resource of volunteers for some other Town projects. But, no matter what: please y’all, keep your litter to yourselves and don’t throw it out the window. 

EDWARD STRICKLER (and husband James Schneider) retired to Farmville in 2020 but had visited Farmville many times over the years to enjoy local state parks. Edward is retired from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and is one of the most reliable advocates for rural health in the American Public Health Association. He volunteers locally with the Piedmont Health District and nationally with Braver Angels.