Dispatch, August 24, 2017 by Alys
Yesterday I began working at the Palmer State Fair. I am a recycling sorting area supervisor – I am going to work the late afternoon/early evening shift, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. I went in earlier yesterday, so as to give an assist and get a handle on what it is I am to do. There are (it seems) innumerable details involved in this job. I am going to be working with volunteers, that is those who go out into the fairgrounds with carts and collect plastic bottles, aluminum cans and corrugated cardboard. They also assist in sort out and bagging the collected materials.
The sorting area is located behind the Orange area parking lot – the Lumberjack area and Raven Hall are within sight. It’s in a convenient area, being located near the central fair area.
Behind the work area are three large green dumpsters, one contains cardboard only and two contain fair waste and cardboard (dirty, waxed, heavily taped) that cannot be recycled. I had a spare moment so I went over to the dumpster with the garbage, and began pulling out the cardboard, and putting it in the other dumpster. As I did this, I was struck by the fact that we as humans generate considerable amounts of waste – and when you take on a job like this one, you start to see all that could instead be recycled.
I did not climb in the dumpster, although I considered it, so I was only able to get at the cardboard in the topmost layers. I mainly pulled forth flattened cardboard boxes that once contained corn. There were dozens of boxes. And pay dirt, I pulled forth a box of perfectly good sandwich bags. But alas, what I did not get at will end up in the local landfill.
Ironically, the local recycling center (Valley Center for Recycling Solutions) is located right next to the landfill. We have a choice. We can sort out our plastic, paper, cardboard, and take it to VCRS or we can haul it, or have it hauled to the landfill. The problem is that the landfill space is filling at an unprecedented rate. The area that surrounds the landfill is currently being used for recreational purposes by bicyclists, horseback riders, and hikers. Once the cells are opened up, the land as we know it will cease to be.
I was in the late afternoon further acquainted with the vagaries of my job. Michelle (who is in charge of recruitment) and Larry, who is THE supervisor in change of the sorting area, filled me in on what I will be doing the next two weeks.
As they talked, I further realized that the amount of material at the fair that ends up being recycled is not happenstance. Over the years, they and others have worked hard to develop the system that is now in place. It’s now a community effort, with volunteers signing up and coming to give an assist in collecting and sorting, before, during, and after the fair.
I am excited about being a part of this momentous effort, and I am hoping in writing this to encourage others to give a much-needed assist.
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Dispatch, Friday, August 25, 2017 by Alys
Thinking Outside the Cardboard Box
Yesterday was my second day of working in the Alaska State Fair Recycling Sorting Area, and my first evening of going solo. I’ve always enjoyed jobs that allow me to shinny up the learning curve. In fact, my number one reason for abandoning past abandoned jobs was because I felt as though I wasn’t learning enough.
Most of today’s lessons centered around cardboard and the ins and outs of collecting and sorting it. I discovered that plastic bottles and aluminum cans are a near no-brainer. But cardboard collection and distribution is a bit more complicated.
I’d told several workers that the day before yesterday that I’d pulled corn boxes out of the non-recycling dumpster. I was subsequently told that waxed boxes are non-recyclable. I said that I didn’t think the ones I pulled out were waxed, but I suspect that I may have been wrong due to my ignorance about such matters. So, I will refrain from putting waxed cardboard in the recyclable dumpster.
Furthermore, I realized that I don’t need to transfer cardboard from the non-recyclable to the recyclable dumpster – the fair maintenance workers are doing an excellent job of this. I watched from the sorting area as they schlepped what they had gathered up from their trucks to the recyclable dumpster. And after I went over and thanked them.
There is also the matter of collection. It was my first evening of sending volunteers out with the carts. About a dozen people showed up for work – and what a crew. Hats off to the Venture organization volunteers. The young women are amazingly hard working and last night were very much aware of the importance of their task. I was further blown away by their positive attitudes – not a one complained about the fact that it was cold and slightly blustery out. And all came and left with smiles on their faces. Venture, as I later learned, is an organization which is like Boy and Girl Scouts combined. They do outdoorsy stuff, like Ice climbing and hiking. And they do community service work.
I sent the Venture crews out after talking a bit about where they might find plastic bottles and aluminum cans – and added “also, pick up and flatten cardboard before putting it in your cart.” This is an instance in which hindsight is going to serve me in good stead. I will tonight and during the remaining two weeks of the fair, think outside the box in when it comes to cardboard pros and cons. For instance, I’ll tell workers to leave food grade cardboard, ie pizza boxes with leavings on them behind. I’ll also tell them to avoid waxed boxes. And I’ll suggest pulling off the plastic stuff that adheres to the surface of some of the boxes.
As for collection – I did not say, and I should have – that cardboard is in abundance in the areas between the vending booths in the food areas. The same can be said about the area behind Raven Hall.
Lastly, an amusing story. At the evening’s end, I went to close the dumpster. This involves turning a crank on the side. I began turning it. Nothing happened. I turned again. Nothing happened. Oh oh. It was as I was examining the apparatus that I heard a voice that seemed to come from the heavens. It yelled out “turn the crank the other way.” Startled, I saw no one. I looked around the far corner, saw no one. “Like this,” a voice from behind me said. I spun around – there was Larry, the daytime supervisor.
He gave a good natured shrug when I told him he had appeared on the scene at just the right point in time. Larry then smiled, and turned the crank in the proper direction. The top of the cardboard container was then closed. I who was done for the day then moved towards my car, with a decided bounce in my step.
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Dispatch, Saturday August 26, 2017 by Alys
Out in the Real World
I primarily work in the sorting area. I offer directives to volunteers related to collecting and sorting recyclables. The past volunteers know what to do. And they have been generous in passing on their hard earned knowledge to me.
For instance, one woman suggested that small rocks be put in the wagon. These can be placed under the wheels when the wagons are packed next to the collection barrels. She also suggested that the daily fair schedule be placed in the carts and given to those who have logistical questions. Great ideas.
I have been working in the sorting area. But yesterday I also worked in the collection area, that is the fairgrounds itself. I was for a few hours a picker. Pickers, using long tongs, remove plastic bottles and aluminum cans from the green barrels, and place them in large plastic bags on the cart. Pickers also flatten and put cardboard in the wagon.
I went out on a run with my long-time recycling partner and husband, Pete Praetorius. We’ve been pickers for a decade, and in this time have developed a system that works for us. We each take a cart, and work one side of the trail or the other, in near unison. We both work in a focused, concentrated fashion, stopping once in while to talk with vendors or those who are curious about what we’re doing. Sometimes one of us will veer off the trail and clear out the barrels in a side area. The other will go on ahead and continue working.
In the past I filled my two large white garbage bags with cans and bottles, and jammed the cardboard between the bags. My cart was always wobbly and I often had to stop and pick up an errant can or bottle. This year, I refined my collection system. I looked closely at how other pickers were arranging their wares on my first two days of work. I noted that those with the most goods had struck a cardboard/bag balance, and so determined to do the same.
Pete and I headed out on the red trail, an area with a large number of food vendors. We quickly deduced that it was going to be a good haul in that most of the barrels were partially full. I began filling my first bag. When it was a quarter full, I came to an area with a considerable amount of cardboard.
How to deal? I had an ‘aha’ moment. I needed to prioritize. Rather than think cans and bottles first, I needed to think cardboard first. I took my bag out of the cart, set it on the ground, and lined the bottom of the cart with flattened cardboard. I next took additional cardboard and made four upright walls on each side of green cart. This then provided a base and walls for my two bags.
I then moved on. If need be, I could put cardboard between the two bags. It was fortuitous in that I didn’t come across any more cardboard on this run. It was all cans and bottles the rest of the way around the trail.
Near the run’s end, I jammed soda cans between the cardboard walls and my now full bags.
On this particular day there was less garbage in the cans than previously. And furthermore, a larger-than average number of fairgoers said thank-you for doing the collecting. My sense is that the past efforts of those involved in fair recycling is paying off. People are taking notice. I am honored to be playing a small role in this very significant cosmic shift.
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August 27, 2017 by Alys
A perk of being an Alaska State Fair employee is that you get a parking permit and employee badge, so you can come and go at your leisure. Recycling volunteers get admittance passes and parking passes. I haven’t had much time for fair doings – but I have been spending considerable time in the agricultural barn. This is because this year my goat Stormy is one of two demonstration milking goats. Twice a day she’s milked by Chelsea, the goat demo Dairy Queen, at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Stormy hops on a stand, and as she is milked, Chelsea answers questions. Rumor has it that on one day two hundred kids saw this wonderful Alpine doe get milked.
I’ve been checking in on Stormy and her and her buddy Ranger who is usually her home-based buddy. He didn’t like the moniker The Lone Ranger so we took him over to the ag building and put him in Stormy’s pen. The two caprines have been having a wonderful time, as literally hundreds of fair goers have stopped by to admire them. I have been answering questions about the two and about goats in general. I have also been answering questions about some of the other animals on the row; this includes the two Jersey cows, one of whom has a calf, the adjacent Togginburg goat, the two Angus calves, and the llama. The llama and the calves have been also been doing petting zoo duty.
Yesterday, Saturday, was the State Fair open sheep/goat/pig show. Suzy Crosby, who sold me Stormy (and is my goat mentor), encouraged me to enter Stormy in a class. I at first balked because I would have been embarrassed if I’d done poorly and misrepresented Suzy and her husband Mike’s Cottonwood Creek Farm. However, I rightly deduced that the publicity would be good for Pete and I. Come spring, Stormy is going to have kids and I want to find them good homes. Consequently, a strong placing would be in Stormy’s offspring’s favor.
I have an Associates Degree in Applied Science, and while in school was on the horse judging team. And I have showed horses in-hand. But I had never shown a goat. I quickly worked at getting up to snuff by watching a You Tube video and, prior to the goat classes, watched the sheep classes. I was blown away by the expertise of the competitors and the level of expertise of the judge. He did an excellent job of explaining to competitors and observers alike what he as a judge was looking for. And he spent the most time with the younger showmen and women. He (for one) told them to watch the adults in their classes, and in this way learn from them. In all instances, he stressed the importance of maintaining eye contact with the judge and staying on the correct side of their animals – in other words, keep the animal between yourself and the judge. I further observed that those who did well were calm, focused, and simultaneously attentive to the judge and to their animals.
The goat showing followed the sheep. I took Stormy to the waiting area, and there we stood for fifteen minutes or so. Chelsea, who has been milking Stormy, told me that Stormy had been shown before which explained why she was so calm. No mean feat considering she was surrounded by about two dozen others, of varying breeds. When finally our name was called, Stormy strode into the arena like this was her rightful domain. I did as Suzy instructed and stayed by her shoulder, while at the same time holding the upper portion of her collar. We were the only one in the “Does five and older,” class. I stopped Stormy, set her up, and looked the judge right in the eyes. He nodded, and then in a long glance, appraised Stormy. I swallowed hard a few times in hearing his subsequent commentary. He said that Stormy was an excellent example of an older milking goat, and pointed out that she had a near perfect udder and topline. After saying a few more complimentary things, he came over, shook my hand, and handed me a blue ribbon. I thanked him, and exited the arena.
Stormy and I were then called back in for the division championship class. There were about a dozen goats of varying breeds in this class. Repeatedly, the judge’s eyes swept the lineup, lingering on Stormy. I stood tall with my shoulders back, and one leg in front of Stormy. And she struck up her show stance, looking straight ahead with her rear legs back. The judge again appraised the goats in the class. Again, he was drawn to Stormy. The thought that entered my mind was that this was a man who not only knew a good animal when he saw one, but also took great joy in seeing a good animals.
His final commentary (which was addressed to both the onlookers and competitors) took all the goats and their good breeding and care into consideration. But his final words centered around Stormy, who he said “was worthy of the division championship.” He then came over to me, again shook my hand, and gave me the division ribbon. Stormy balked when we were asked to leave the arena. Most certainly, this was her moment in the sun and she did not want to give it up. I told her that there would be many more – and I meant it.
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Dispatch, August 28, 2017 by Alys
RE: CYCLING: OUTREACH AND REACHING OUT
I continue to work in the recycling sorting area. There are other things that in my life need doing. However, I have made this job a priority because recycling and promoting recycling is such an important endeavor.
Yesterday, Michelle, the Alaska State Fair recycling volunteer coordinator, rightly said to me and a group of Colony Highschool students that our job involves educating people. Her statement gave me pause because up until this point in time I’d been thinking that our primary job was to gather together as much recyclable material as possible. Outreach – this was the job of those working at the VCRS booth.
Michelle’s sentiments were later reiterated by Catherine Inman, a long-time acquaintance. She had volunteered to be a picker, and as she said after doing a cart run, that along the way she’d stopped and talked with fair goers and vendors, explaining to them what she was doing and why.
The insights of Michelle and Catherine had a profound effect on my thinking. In the past (when out and about with the cart) I’d hurried right along, intent on filling my wagon quickly, so that I might have time to go out and get yet another load. Being a picker is synonymous to being a hero. It’s a great feeling, to walk back into the sorting area with a full load – some cheer and some ooh and aww.
After Catherine took off again (with the intention of getting more goods and talking with more people) I resumed work at the sorting table. I was joined by six Colony High school students. We emptied bags onto the sorting table, twisted tops off plastic bottles and squashed cans. We then tossed bottles in one garbage can, and squashed aluminum cans into another. Remaining items go into large super saks which are located to the side of the sorting table. Bottle lids and other debris go into a garbage receptacle. The “garbage” cans full of plastic bottles and aluminum cans are then emptied into two large super saks hanging from a frame. The super saks (when full) are stored in two green roll offs. One contains plastic bottles and one contains aluminum cans.
I seldom talk when I work with the kids because they are not interested in the musings of an older adult. Rather, I listen in. The talk is primarily teenage chitter chatter. Yesterday I learned that one individual had been grounded for three months for cussing like a sailor, and that another had, in one sitting consumed six energy drinks in one sitting. But every so often one or another inevitably comments on the task at hand, noting for instance there is a lot of really gross garbage on the table.
Yesterday the talk was also about the sheer amount of waste at the fair, and that this was reflective of what was happening in the world in general. Hearing this, I apologized to the youngers and said that I felt bad that we adults are leaving them a very dirty planet. I was instantly reassured that the problem would be rectified by the upcoming generation when one fellow remarked “Don’t worry. Our generation will clean it up.”
It was then that I had a major revelation, and this was that Yes, recycling outreach is and should continue to happen out on the trail. But at the same time, it is happening in the sorting area. For instance, the table is a gathering place in which awareness about recycling is brought to the attention of those doing this supposedly onerous task. And I’d put money on it – the younger volunteers are going to impress upon friends and classmates the importance of responsible waste disposal. No, they will undoubtedly say something when they see someone poised to toss a turkey wing, diaper, or cigarette butt in a recycling bin.
Yeah, I have a full plate these days – but I am momentarily pushing it to side and will return to it later. My motto remains – if you see a fork in the road, pick it up!
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ALYS’s PROVERBIAL “FORK IN THE ROAD”.
“If you see a fork in the road, pick it up”.
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Dispatch, Monday August 29, 2017 by Alys
OH NO, NOT THE MIDWAY!!
Change is a constant, and I am the sort who welcomes it. Jobs in which it’s the same old same old make me anxious – I crave variety. Fortunately, there is considerable variety in being a recycling supervisor.
There are both down and up times on this job. The down times usually occur right after the wagon pullers go out. And the up times occur when they came back. During the down times I keep myself busy, hosing down the collection bags, cutting up cardboard and putting it in the dumpster, dumping cans and bottles into the larger bags, and emptying the gray water bucket into the larger bucket. During the up times I assist with the sorting.
There was a steady stream of volunteers yesterday: this included Mollie Boyer, the VCRS director. I gave her a lecture about the importance of outreach, then sent her out to do a run on the red trail, where most of the food vendors are. Upon her return, she provided me with the Big Picture in relation to recycling. Says Mollie, “Recycling volume can be equated with profit. Money pays for both a staff and outreach efforts. Outreach educates. Cardboard is the biggest commodity and a considerable amount is generated at the fair, primarily by the vendor.”
After Mollie and I talked, I looked around, and noted that it was down time. It was 7 p.m. Three wagon pullers were out and we were caught up on the sorting. So I decided to go out and do a run with her. It was 7 p.m.
We hit the red trail because Mollie had heard that that the barrels were full and she needed to check out the barrel situation. Rumor had it that the red trail and the Ag building were short on green barrels. It was overcast, chilly. We first checked out the area behind the vendor booths. I could hear the hum of the midway, but at that point it was just a hum. The green barrels were relatively free of garbage and a little less than a quarter full. The fair patrons were (in this area) doing a good job of keeping recyclables and general trash separate. A vendor wearing a jester hat gave me cardboard, enough to line the bottom and side of my cart. Indeed, life was good.
We continued on, first checking the barrels directly on the red trail, then venturing over to the green trail. Change occurred as we went from a low to a high density area. I noted that there was a correlation between the foot traffic and noise level and my anxiety level. The latter was off the charts by the time I hit the midway. What came to mind was Dante’s Inferno, a book in which is a self-description of hell. The inferno contains nine circles. If say this was the Inferno, then I was caught between the third and fourth circles, respectively called gluttony and greed. Dante’s assessment was applicable in this instance but what was lacking was the tenth circle – ones that I labeled obliviousness and lack of common courtesy. What else can be said of an area in which a fair goer sits on the edge of a recycling wagon in order to talk with some friends or another tosses a nearly full french fry container into my cart.
I took a deep breath and focused hard on the task at hand. Mollie was right. There was a scarcity of green barrels in the midway area. So fair goers were tossing bottles and cans in the red garbage barrels. I dug for them with my picker with a fanatic’s grace, all the while thinking that if I did not, this material would become landfill fodder. I had a fairly good haul but hit pay dirt in coming across a green can filled with bottles and cans. I lifted it out of barrel, bungied it down in my cart, and put a new plastic bag that I just happened to have on hand in the empty container.
I could hear, off at the distance, the Fab Four singing Hey Jude. I sung along, all the way back to the sorting area.
It was 8 p.m., the end time of the afternoon shift. I breathed a sigh of relief in noting that the other wagon pullers (and this included Mollie) had parked their loads and left, for this meant that I now (again) had much-needed down time.
I first put the wagon cardboard in the dumpster and the bags of plastic and aluminum cans under the shelter. I then parked the carts, and put bags and pickers inside, so that the morning crew could quickly get on their way. I propped a pallet up against the washed collection bags so that they wouldn’t blow away. Lastly, I closed the dumpster and put a padlock on the sorting shelter door. I listened, but could no longer hear the Fab Four. No matter, I broke into song, singing my own version of Yesterday.
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Dispatch, Thursday August 30, 2017 by Alys
INTERLUDE: LIVING OFF THE GRID
Yesterday afternoon I was at the recycling sorting table, chatting with Chad, who is in charge of the Spanish honors program at Colony High School. I told him some about my life, where I live and what I do, in order to provide him with a rationale for my taking on the job of being an Alaska State Fair Recycling sorting area worker.
After, I realized that I needed to provide those reading these dispatches with this information. Otherwise, they’d have the pieces of the puzzle but no board on which to lay the pieces. So what follows is in part what I am telling volunteers.
Pete and I live off the grid, on a 2.5 acre parcel, located outside of Palmer. It’s been difficult, pulling myself away from the home front and heading on in to work because we have so much going on here. I spend my mornings writing and my afternoons working around the place we call Squalor Holler. Pete’s the gardener and I’m the livestock person. Pete’s a social animal but I generally lead a fairly solitary life. It’s impossible to get a hold of me by cell phone. We have a landline phone.
We share our property with four Icelandic horses, two chickens (again soon to be three in number), two goats (hopefully in the future to be three in number ) and one dog (hopefully soon to be two in number – looking for another border collie).
Our doe Stormy provides us with milk – we drink our milk and make our own cheese and yogurt.
The words “living sustainably” is now an overused term, but this is what we are attempting to do. We have a root cellar in which we store produce. We have two sizeable gardens, a greenhouse, and an NRS funded hoop house. Pete also put in a fruit orchard this summer. We jar our raspberries, currants, and Saskatoons. Pete goes dipnetting for salmon in Chitina and together we pick blueberries which we also can.
Compost happens here. We put the horse manure in buckets and encourage gardeners to take it. I used to turn the compost by hand but agreed with Pete that we should invest in a tractor when the horses came of riding age. We sell some compost but the majority goes into our garden.
We heat with wood, and solar and wind are our primary electrical source. We have a back-up generator which fuels the on-demand hot water heater. Because we live the way we do, both Pete and I are acutely aware of the importance of conserving resources. We have a number of marked bins and take our recyclables to VCRS. We also have a root cellar in which we store produce and goat milk. Our water tanks were originally from the Mat Maid dairy. Rain gutters, gotta have them. We water the horses and garden, via a hose system.
I used to bemoan the fact that we don’t have the supposed necessities on hand, some being a toaster, a microwave, a hair dryer, or a coffee maker. Nor do we have watering hose or a lawnmower. However, this has made me far more resourceful and hands-on than I used to be. I also have come to see the importance of livestock in our lives. I previously mentioned that our chickens and goats give us produce. In addition, the horses and goats are (respectively) our lawnmowers and landscape artists. The horses go for the grass and the goats go for the shrubs. And the chickens eat the slugs and mice.
As I told Chad, the hardest part of my job has been the temporary change in lifestyle, that is from one in which I am alone most of the time, to one in which I’m surrounded by people. But the change is well worth it. The job I’m now doing is related to my off-the-grid lifestyle. Encouraging others to consume less and more wisely is what is going to save this planet. That others (both young and old) are involved in this endeavor makes the time spent well worth it.
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Dispatch August 29, 2017 by Alys
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
Individually, we can make a difference. Pick up the fork in the road. Pass the newspaper on to a friend. Eschew bottled water. Bypass that full can of soda. Avoid plastic packaging. And for dog sake, recycle, recycle, recycle. These days these and other directives are either falling on deaf ears or are being tuned out by those who have heard them numerous times. Add to this, YOU can make a difference.
To be in the thick of it, at the sorting table, amongst the recyclables and non-recyclables is a sobering experience. Yesterday the wind came up and blew plastic bottles, aluminum cans and whatnot in all directions. The whatnot, a baby diaper and several wads of napkin, stayed on the table. One person ran about and retrieved the goods. Another scraped down the table with a dustpan. Countless bottle caps went into the garbage. And yet another emptied a trashcan full of aluminum cans into a larger white bag, one that was to be stored in a storage container and later taken to VCRS where it will then be baled and shipped down to the Lower 48.
Yes, the individuals at the sorting table were making a difference. In this case they were teenagers involved with Venturers, a youth program of the Boy Scouts of America, designed for young men and women who are 13 and have completed eighth grade, or age 14-20 years of age.
The purpose of the Venturer program is to provide positive experiences for youth and to prepare them to become responsible and caring adults. Venturing is based on a unique and dynamic relationship between youth, adult leaders, and community organizations.
The Venturer crew members have thus far put in more hours than any other community service group. Equally impressive, at least in my estimation, is the fact that the groups I’ve been working with have been working as a team. Yes, we as individuals can make a difference. But communities of individuals make an even bigger difference.
We learn by example. Picture it – three teenagers out on the fairgrounds. All are wearing yellow vests and large orange rubber gloves. There they are, out in Midway, filling a cart with recyclables. One searches around for cardboard. Another lifts a green recycle barrel lid, and opens a bag. Another pulls bottles and cans out of barrel and deposits them in a nearly full to overflowing bag. Others their age pass by, food and drink in hand. The midway – it’s a noisy, crowded space.
A teenager, the age of the Venturers, stops and asks them what they’re doing. All stop working and begin to tell him about Venturer and that what they’re doing is community service work. His friends gather around. The ensuing conversation, in which all participate, is animated, intense, but also peppered with teenage phrases and laughter.
If say, one of these kids were alone, he or she would be hardly noticeable. Sure, the bags would get filled, and the returning person would get the usual high five and hero’s welcome. But the addition of a few more individuals has an even greater impact on the thinking of our citizenry in relation to recycling.
I have made it a point to let the Venturers know what a great thing they are doing. I have also commended those in other groups, some of which hail from Colony High School (JROTC and the Spanish Honors Program included) and Valley Pathways.
Perhaps my motto should be – no forks left behind.
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Dispatch, September 1, 2017 by Alys
CARDBOARD, CARDBOARD, AND MORE CARDBOARD
Cardboard is the biggest money maker for VCRS. So an all-out effort has been waged to collect as much as possible. Vendors have been asked to set it aside for collection as have the maintenance workers. The response has been phenomenal. The cardboard just keeps a coming.
Yesterday was a slow day because fair attendance was down. Volunteers were encouraged to look in Red, Green, Purple, and Yellow trail nooks and crannies for cardboard – and they did, bringing it back by the cartload, some loads seemingly precarious because of their height, but carefully bungied in place. I assisted them in unloading their carts.
My primary job yesterday was to cut up and flatten the boxes that the maintenance people have been setting beside the dumpsters. I am now a whiz with the box cutter – I cut, flatten, toss. Sometimes I stomp, but not often. I’d be the champ if there was an Alaska State Fair cardboard sorting/cutting/tossing contest. Give me a strong wind, and an errant box, and I’m on it.
Due to low numbers, I had more time to think about the task at hand. These boxes – many were sturdy, well-constructed. It seemed a shame to me that they were being flattened. A volunteer came in with a few unflattened boxes and when I said I’d give her a hand flattening them, said she was going to use them for moving.
Her sentiments and mine on the subject of boxes was the same. Like this hard working volunteer, I have come to value a well-made box. As a child and teenager my mother, sister, and I moved often, usually in the same Rochester, N.Y. neighborhood. My mother thrived on starting things anew, and so this is what we did, repeatedly.
When Mother again announced that we were moving, my sister and I headed to Di Junes liquor store because they had the sturdiest boxes. We next went across the street, and got a few more from Wegman’s Supermarket. And, if need be, we gathered a few more from behind Flanigan’s Furniture store.
The majority of the Flanigan Furniture boxes were far too large for packing. But the Muntz T.V. boxes were good for lightweight items such as clothing and blankets.
Ahh, but those larger boxes. After moving, we often returned and took those bigger boxes and constructed multi-level forts in our new backyard. Couch boxes were long and had wood frames. Recliner chair boxes had some height to them. Our building efforts were sometimes rewarded in that we were allowed to sleep outside on hot summer nights. Rain, that was a problem. Eleanor and I occasionally woke up surrounded by sodden cardboard. Nevertheless, we ate breakfast outside before heading in – usually Kellogs Cornflakes which came in – cardboard boxes.
Cardboard boxes also came in handy my first semester of college. I attended the University of New Hampshire. I distinctly recall moving into a building that was a former nursing home. It was owned by a woman named Thelma Hooz. My room had absolutely no furniture. I hunted down a mattress. And I found cardboard boxes behind a local (you guessed it) furniture store. Two more boxes served as nightstand and another two as a desk top. I was further chagrined when I realized that I could also store clothes and books in boxes.
My cardboard décor was both functional and serviceable. I did, at the semester’s end, recycle. In a subsequent move I used the boxes for moving again, this time to a new place, one that was just a stone’s throw from where I was then living. And it was semi-furnished.
The majority of the fair boxes are being recycled. Too bad they aren’t going to a cardboard warehouse, where those who need them could come and put them, in their entirety, to good use.
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Dispatch, Saturday September 2, 2017 by Alys
After a while, there is a rhythm to the job at hand. Volunteers out, volunteers in, recyclables in, recyclables out. During the time when there are people in the recycling area, I interact and coordinate efforts. I take care of loose ends when no one is around.
I’ve been looking at the multitude of tasks that at are involved in this job from Larry’s perspective. Larry does the early shift and I do the later one. We have some overlap; I go to work early if it’s going to be a busy day.
Larry has worked in the recycling sorting area as a supervisor for a number of years. This is the perfect job for him because he’s so hands-on. In addition to dealing with recyclables, Larry does numerous other tasks. Lately he’s been painting the recycling barrel lids and stenciling “RECYCLE CANS & BOTTLES ONLY” on the lids. He has a very neat and tidy covered area adjacent to the main shed – it’s a combination workshop/drying area.
I am not hands on. I am organized and able to prioritize. While this has its own merits this is also limiting. This is why I very much value what Larry is doing.
Larry’s high degree of focus combined with his concern makes me want to do a better job. If say, he tells me that a number five plastic Alaska Soda Jerk cup is in with the number two containers, I nod and make a mental reminder to put it in the correct bag. Why should this matter? This is not a question that has been coming to mind. For Larry, in indicating that a container is in the wrong area, he has indirectly been telling me that our efforts are for naught if we do things in a mindless fashion.
A few years back I would have let some things go. For instance, the other day I inadvertently poured a garbage can full of plastic bottles into the aluminum can collection bag. This time I unhooked the bag and dug those bottles out and got them into the right bin. I do not know what would have happened on the other end, had the bottles gone through with the cans. Perhaps it would have been okay. But then again, the plastic bottles may have gotten caught in the baler. So I left nothing to chance. Removing the bottles, one by one, was an onerous task in that it was time- consuming. And I had other things to do. The cardboard was piling up next to the dumpster and the three groups of volunteers that were out were due to come back in. But I did it. And I felt good about doing it.
I later mentioned my slip up to Larry and with a sidelong smile he said, “I once did that.” This made me feel better about my moment of inattentiveness. And I was pleased to have taken a moment to deal with what may or may not have been an inconsequential problem.
But here is the catch. It’s the concentric circle theory. If I’m mindful, as Larry is, then others will catch on in the way I have caught on from him. If what I and consequently others are doing comes to be, there will be no need for a future recycling sorting area.
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Dispatch, Sunday September 3, 2017 by Alys
STUCK IN FAIR TRAFFIC – TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
I left home for work forty-three minutes ago. Traffic appears to have ground to a halt at the Glenn Highway and Palmer Fishhook intersection. I’ve since been inching my way forward, at about one mile per hour.
I’ve never before had to deal with anything like this. I wish I’d brought along a copy of War and Peace. Most likely I’d have finished it by now. Inveterate reader that I am, I’d also have polished off One Hundred Years of Solitude. I should have a library in my Suzuki Swift. As it is, I am now instead writing about my experience.
This is a wake-up call. I have been mulling over the idea of moving back down to America and getting a real job. I’m being forewarned. Traffic tie ups would most likely be a part of the deal. I could call Larry, the morning/early afternoon Recycling Resorting Area shift worker, and tell him I’m going to be late but the phone option on my cell phone is not working. It has never worked. This is because I don’t use this option often enough. Furthermore, all I’d say to Larry is that I am a responsible employee and I am caught in traffic.
I’m now nearing the Glenn Highway and Palmer-Wasilla Highway intersection. On my left, on one side of the highway, is Fred Meyers. On the other is Carrs Supermarket. Both have Starbucks Coffee. I could pull in and get a cup of java and dunk my cellphone in it. Could be edible. Don’t know until you’ve tried it.
I have now been on the dole for ten days and I have four to go. I am generally not on any payroll, and therefore usually only accountable to myself. Being accountable to myself, I’ve made my own work hours and schedule. And in making my own work hours and schedule, I never had to be at a certain place at a certain time. Hence, I have never been caught in a traffic jam. I’ve been in a few jams as a passenger but this is a different matter. All I had to do then was empathize with the driver. I can’t empathize because I AM NOW IN CHARGE.
Chill, chill, chill. OMG I just realized that the ice cooler is sitting right next to me. Stormy is the state fair demo goat and she’s going to be milked at 5 p.m. It’s now 4 p.m. Chelsea, who is the demo milk maid, places the bottled milk in the cooler which contains an ice pack. Cooled milk stays fresher longer and is not goaty. If I don’t get there on time she’s going to have to dump it. We’ll lose a quart or two. The cow demo people are dumping their milk because they don’t have the right equipment on hand. That’s five-six gallons a day. Now this is a huge loss.
There’s not much traffic coming from the direction of the fair. People must be staying put. I wonder what the reason for this tie-up is. Could be a number of things including climate change, Trump, or the Doobie Brothers. The Doobie Brothers are playing tonight. Has to be a combination of the above. We are all doomed.
Time to take a look at my cellphone email. Carole (who works at VCRS) sent me a message, says that my dispatch, entitled “Living off the Grid,” has gone viral. Yes, language is a virus. Hmm, all these years of attempting to get published in print form and I’m now making it big on social media. And there is no one here to celebrate this momentous occasion with. Well, there’s the ice cooler, but it ain’t talking.
I used to ride my bicycle everywhere. I’d routinely whiz by those in cars. Now bicyclists are whizzing by me. The Gods are not smiling down on me. Rather, they are laughing so hard their insides are hurting and their eyes are watering. Curse the traffic Gods, curse each and every one of them.
I’m through the intersection and now have a view of the line ahead. It has no end in sight. It’s a bumper crop. And to think, just two hours ago (and it’s been two hours) I was in my backyard, in what I call the Playground of Higher Learning. I was having such a good time with my ponies that I did not want to leave. I should have trusted my inner voice which said, “Stay put. It’s a big bad world out there.” I should have called in sick and said that my immune system had taken a beating in dealing with the contents of all those bottles and cans. Gentle reader, I’ll spare you the details of what was in those containers. Should have, should have, should have . . .
Why do they call it a traffic jam? This has no resemblance to what I put on toast. We’ll all be toast if this line doesn’t start moving soon.
I have an idea. I’m going to take some photos. There. These are not great photos – just images of a long line of ‘look alike’ cars — but I just killed some time. Stomped time hard, but like a Timex watch, it just keeps ticking.
My sister Eleanor would not be empathetic if I told her about my plight. It would be like telling her that I am bothered by the fact my hair is going grey. You see, her hair is now white. The analogy here is that Eleanor lives in Portland, Oregon where traffic jams are commonplace. But then again, who would be empathetic? Traffic jams are us.
I’ll get where I am going. But what about tomorrow? Or the next day? Fair attendance has been down the past few days but now it’s back up. I should just put this vehicle in a ditch, grab my cooler, backpack, and camera and walk in. I should. I’m staying put because I am harboring the hope that this line is going to start moving.
I’d heard that last year the state fair parking lot filled up quickly. So the flaggers sent the cars around the block, repeatedly, until there was room for them. I’m not going to let them do this to me. I’m going to tell them that I’m a phlebotomist and have to get the blood in the cooler next to me to my co-workers in the bloodmobile. I’ll tap the lime green container gently and purse my lips. They might then provide me with an escort.
This is dreadful, just dreadful. I’m now supposed to be on the clock. I don’t have to punch in, this is for the really downtrodden workers of the world. I have bills to pay. The money that I earn in working at this job is going to pay my hay bill. Hay’s now $14.00 a bale. I’m busting my butt so that I can purchase dried grass and weeds. And the horses, they’re not at all appreciative. High priced fodder seems to be their dog given right.
It could be worse. It could be worse. It could be worse. This is my new mantra. I have a pen, paper, and an authentic literary voice that’s now going viral. And fortunately, hardship sells.
Postscript. It was a very busy day at the fair. It took me three hours and thirty minutes to do what usually is a 25 minute drive. I spent considerable time at the sorting table – and all the volunteers spoke of being caught in traffic. I missed the afternoon milking – I am not sure what Chelsea did with the milk.
Early in the evening there was a dumpster fire. I watched the maintenance people put it out to the strains of the Doobie Brothers playing “Taking it to the Streets.”
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Dispatch, Monday September 4, 2017 by Alys
THE UNSEEN VOLUNTEER
I don’t have the volunteer numbers on hand – I’d have to get them from Michelle, the recycling volunteer coordinator. But there has been a veritable sea of volunteers doing recycling sorting and collection. The most amazing thing of all is that nearly every shift has been full. And when it appeared as though we’d be short handed, the volunteers on the other shifts stepped in and gave a most needed assist.
I’d often ask those who had already done a few cart runs if they’d go out and do another – and they’d usually head back out again, going back to the path that had more recyclables than they could collect. Or they’d head for a new path if the pickings on the old had been slim.
It’s easy, if you work in the sorting area and have a table full of recyclables and garbage in front of you, to think the worst of humanity. But this high degree of willingness on the part of all the volunteers speaks well of the human race. Some discard, but many pick up. And the numbers are growing. Education, which primarily comes in the form of example, is key.
My sense all along was that volunteers and workers were getting the bulk of the recyclables – no mean feat when you figure that collection and the sorting is being done by hand.
I am now speaking with a certain bias. But a hats-off goes to Pete. This guy, my husband, has been involved in the local recycling effort for a decade. He’s on the VCRS board and assists with fundraising functions. This is impressive given that he has a full-time job teaching communication classes at nearby Mat Su College. And our off-the-grid place takes up his remaining time.
In the past few weeks Pete’s been working in the trenches. He’s been pulling a cart and collecting recyclables every day. And he’s been talking with vendors and fairgoers about the importance of recycling. Pete’s naturally personable so this comes easily to him.
Yesterday afternoon Pete came back to the sorting area with our camera in hand. There was a bounce to his step and a smile on his face. I stopped what I was doing in order to look at the photos he’d taken. He’d been telling me that we needed to get some pictures of the workers out on the grounds. I’d repeatedly said that I’d do this if I had the time to get out on the grounds. Pete took matters into his own hands when he saw that I’d been too busy to act on his observation.
Pete’s photos were of volunteers doing their job. In addition, he took a photo of a fairgoer putting a container into the wrong barrel, and another of an fairgoer putting a container into the correct barrel. And he took yet another photo of Mollie, the VCRS director, removing a can from the wrong barrel.
Pete’s also repeatedly brought me dinner and given me a hand with my other fair activity, that is, tending to our goats. Thoughtful is the word – last night when I was sorting – he went over to the radio and changed the station. He knew that I’d find the classical music station preferable to the heavy metal station.
May the sun shine brightly on all the Alaska State Fair volunteers and Pete.
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Dispatch, Second to Last Day, September 6, 2017 by Alys
The Alaska State Fair ended last night, the vendors closed up shop at 8 p.m. Most think that this was it – and didn’t realize that for many, that today, the hard work continued. Of course, the vendors were cleaning up and moving their goods out. And the maintenance people (always driving lime green trucks) were filling their two dumpsters from garbage that they were collecting from red, yellow, and purple barrels. All day, I watched as the dumpster mound of white plastic bags filled with trash grew higher and higher.
And there was us recycling folk. Early on in the day Pete and I picked up the green barrels and lids which we placed on our flatbed trailer and hauled back to the Recycling Sorting area. We also gathered up the blue plastic recycling bins that were inside Raven Hall. We were momentarily waylaid by an army helicopter which was preparing to take off. Pete said that when it lifted off, that it blew over a Port-a-Potty.
Along the way we gathered up some cardboard and put this in the back of the Tundra. I rooted through the red, yellow, and purple barrels and pulled out the cans and bottles on the top. Otherwise, these perfectly good recyclables would end up in the MSB Landfill.
We unloaded the barrels in the sorting area, placing the white bags full of materials and garbage by the sorting tables. Larry and another worker, Jeremy, spent the morning doing cardboard runs.
The weather was utterly miserable. A light drizzle became a downpour. In the afternoon I assisted Amy, an inveterate volunteer, with the sorting. She worked mid-morning to mid-afternoon alone. I wince thinking about it – the bags contained bottles and cans and garbage. We were later joined by my good friend Bill Schmidtkunz who had come to the fair to pick up his woodworking entries.
As usual, the sorting banter centered around waste, and how much was in the bags. I contributed to this conversation by observing that the number of volunteers was down yesterday afternoon, at what was a critical time – we then needed more people on hand, so that they might grab some of the bottles and cans in the non-green barrels. Everyone liked my idea — next year we might invite the hardest workers to a final collect and sort session. After, we’ll have a barbecue and maybe pass out some awards.
I gave most of the volunteers white ribbons with the words “I Recycled” on the front. Most were appreciative. If I had my druthers, I’d have given each one a hundred dollar gift certificate to a really nice restaurant. And even this would not have sufficed. There really was no way to thank those like Amy or Kaleah, who came nearly every day and worked their butts off.
I have one day of work remaining. Tomorrow is probably going to be much like today. We’ll collect the barrels and after sort the goods. We’ll then put the tools of our trade, orange rubber gloves, blue plastic aprons, green wagons, and collecting grabbers, into storage. Hopefully, it will not be raining.
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Dispatch, Wednesday September 6, 2017 by Alys
FARE THEE WELL
It was my last day working in the Alaska State Fair recycling sorting area. Cleanup efforts are near complete. Tomorrow the guys will move the remaining green barrels into the storage container. They couldn’t do it today because the day’s bags containing the plastic bottles and aluminum cans were in the storage container.
It was a good day for me because there were a variety of tasks. Also, like yesterday, I didn’t have to deal with fair goers. The day began with my cleaning up the sorting area, then continued on with my going on a “recyclable bag” pickup run. I went with Jeremy, who’s been doing the morning shift – he mainly picks up cardboard.
This job involved picking up cardboard and removing the white plastic bags that line the green cans and tossing them into the back of a lime green Alaska State Fair pickup truck. There was a lot of “a one, and a two, and a three” . . . I next turned the empty cans upside down. I am not sure why I was to do this, but I did as I was told. A humorous moment – I came to a barrel that, because it had been placed under a rain gutter, was full of water. Jeremy emptied it.
I enjoy doing the pickup run at the fair’s end because I am at heart a scrounger. The day’s big find was five pallets with wood backing. I knew that no one would understand why I was so excited about this, so I suppressed my delight and acted casual as we placed them on top of the near overflowing bags. I may have said to Jeremy that I’m going to use them to train horses, but didn’t elaborate. I actually do body awareness work with my animals – for example, I have them do crunches. This involves backing up into a wall and pulling up their abdomen. Now I’ll be able to build an actual crunch station.
We returned to the sorting area and tossed the cardboard into large sacks, and the plastic bags containing the recyclables into the area where the Latter Day Saints (LDS) volunteers would sort them out. The latter showed up exactly at 1 p.m. Half the group went with Larry to pick up the barrels and I went up to the dumpster area to work. The dumpster had been hauled off a few hours before so there was no place for the maintenance workers to put it.
I began putting what was on the ground in a large sack. And I took the maintenance men’s cardboard. By the time I was done I had four full sacks – sacks of cardboard that would otherwise have ended up in the landfill.
My final thoughts on the matter of the task that was before us was that we all did an amazing job. I am not delusional. I know that the amount of recyclables we all collected and sorted is miniscule compared to the overall amount world-wide. And it was a small amount compared to what the local maintenance people picked up. But I’ll tell you this – this is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that we did it, and in so doing made a good example for others.
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