Travel Writing in the Time of Pandemic

August 10, 2020
Just another country road


A sign of the times – Click to view full-sized image

It’s that time of an election year when the weeds are pulling ahead, exceeding all expectations, and the plants are literally falling by the wayside. We don’t need pollsters to predict this will happen. Things have been heated on many fronts lately, but eerily quiet in town.

In a “normal” year we might actually leave the ‘hood sometime in the summer months and by the time we get home and catch up with our friends, the thrill of the window boxes is gone and we graciously let them do as they will, yanking out the petunias and geraniums and eventually replacing them with teensy pumpkins.

Being home for the summer without the ability to even drive much of anywhere means we get a ringside seat of the yearly competition between the plants we actually put in the ground and whatever Mother Nature offers.

We are told the foliage of bleeding heart (Dicentra to horticulturists), should be allowed to yellow and droop, ditto the daylilies. But this is ridiculous. I was thrilled in May to see the former had grown to clumps the size of VW bugs, but now, well, not so much.

I had to deal with this, so I took a look at what was growing in and among the dense, towering forests of “what IS that?” It would be interesting to ask the people of Bedford to identify our Northeastern equivalent of kudzu. I seem to have some of everything on the list of “40 top weeds of the Northeast” and much of it is as high as an elephant’s eye and in some cases climbing clear up to the sky. Once down, it needed a restraining order to get off my property.

My calendar from the DPW, previously stuck on the refrigerator, was discarded in a fit of decluttering early in the pandemic. I was grateful when a well-meaning friend told me the landfill would be open this past weekend. The information was confirmed by an article in this publication so I knew it wasn’t a hoax. I just needed to get some kraft paper lawn waste bags and those little babies would surely almost literally leap into the tall bags. There was no weed shortage, and an array of varieties — tall transparent ones, wiry green vines with the (deceptively) sweet little purple flowers, the crabgrass that I remember well from the summers of my youth.

Maybe it’s budding agoraphobia, but taking a trip to the landfill felt like a rather major outing. When I see someone I know these days it’s typically one head in a Hollywood Squares arrangement on the screen of my laptop. The commute into the yellow chair in my comfy living room is a manageable enough commute.

This expedition felt like a leap into the Land of the Live. I couldn’t just pick up the bags and Zoom there.

Driving to the landfill Saturday morning, color-coordinated floral mask in place, I wondered if it would be a long line to get in. Would vehicles be six feet apart at the entrance on Carlisle Road attended by a uniformed medical person approaching me with a thermometer…or worse. There were a few people there, all wearing PPE and serious expressions, from what I could tell, expending a lot of energy on a hot day.  I had remembrances of hazardous waste drop-offs past. This scene was far more organic.

As one’s world shrinks, the molehills grow to mountains. Having traded in my car in December, pre-pandemic, I hadn’t gotten a sticker for the new one. I wondered if I would get busted because there isn’t a new sticker on the new car. I assume mine is still firmly attached to the windshield of my old car, wherever the old buggy lives now. Tell it to the judge, right?

But I set off with the first 11 bags, all I could fit with one member of Instagram’s DoodlesofBedford as co-pilot occupying the passenger seat and sharing part of mine. With the help of her stellar directional skills, we headed out of the driveway and north to the Common, hanging a left on the Great Road, choosing right at the fork at the Liberty Pole, past Bedford Farms, another left at Route 225, Carlisle Road.

After a bucolic ride toward the Concord River, I arrived at two gates wide open on my left and drove at the legal 5 mph limit into the wide swath of asphalt with plant material on both sides. The tree trunks and big battering rams were on the right. I edged over to the left side, the area composed of leaves and cut grass, composting plants and sticks no bigger than 1inch in diameter. I parked near the towering piles of greenery (plus brownery and yellowery), some in their approved brown paper bags and others in bag-shaped piles.

Of course, I had been there before, but I had forgotten the rush of lobbing the bags onto the top of the pile. There is no penalty for a short shot – do I get a participation ribbon? It took about 60 seconds and I rushed home to get a second carload together, as it was nearing closing time, 1 p.m.

Driving toward home, I sailed by my turn off the Great Road and extended the experience by going to Bedford Car Wash. Half the vac stations were in operation, the others closed for social distancing, and  I sucked up a $5 bill and 73 cents in change from under the floor mat, along with some English ivy roots that had snaked out, bought a little tree car deodorizer (“Lemon Grove,” though it smells nothing like lemon, possibly a grove) and splurged on The Works. I considered getting coffee at the Dunkin’ drive-thru, but there is such a thing as overdoing it.

When I get home, I saw a text from a member of the media following up on my trip to the landfill: How was it?

“Glorious,” I wrote back.

“Did you take pictures and will you write a story about it?”

“No, but I can and I will.”

And here it is.

Editor’s Note: In non-pandemic summers, feature writer Andrea Cleghorn has shared stories of her annual trips to Ireland.

Residents welcome when the compost center is open, but wait here if there’s a crowd,


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