In 2001, Ian Frazier wrote delightfully for this magazine about a small, seemingly manageable problem that blighted his and our world.
“Let us turn, for a moment,” he said, “to the problem of plastic bags stuck in trees.”
I will not ruin the tale. You should read it.
But it is surprising to see what begins as a fascination—I believed this would turn into a ruminative essay very much of the internet era on the beauty of trees, or how we need to reconnect in some way or, I don’t know, childhood—actually contain such oomph as “…and a movie called Blue in the Face, a paean to Brooklyn starring Harvey Keitel and Roseanne Barr, featured a brief appearance by me talking about how much I don’t like bags in trees.”
The part that got me, I suppose, about this whole essay was the friendship. Frazier writes about how gathering plastic bags, taking them down from trees, has become a method more pleasant “than golf” for seeing acquaintances.
“We’re planning road trips to other cities—there are tons of bags in trees, I noticed, in downtown Baltimore—and next spring we’ll be traveling to Los Angeles to provide bag-snagging support to the Friends of the Los Angeles River when they have their annual river cleanup day,” he writes.
I found myself surprised to be jealous. Did I want to become a “bagger” too? Criss-crossing the country with a metal pole, taking down plastic bags, for some reason appeals at the moment—maybe it is only the fall, in which trees feel especially radiant and recklessly underappreciated. But I suspect it is more the casual nature of the whole interaction; the hopefulness of believing in solvable problems and friendly service.
One time, an older man—the kind who believes in justice and peace in the world through action—told me that, when disheartened, you can always pick up trash off the ground. If you pick one piece of trash, you have done something. And this will make you, he said, feel a bit better.
It is, on a good day, good advice, and on a bad day (perhaps in a world so decidedly evil, of late), the kind of advice that makes your eyes roll. If it’s the former day, you might enjoy Frazier’s strolling essay. If it’s not, here is some analysis of last night’s debate.