Meditations at the Dump

By Russell Kirk

I envy my stepmother. For she is chairwoman of the town dump of Baldwin, Michigan. This is by virtue of her recent election to the village board; also she has been appointed to the high dignity of chairwoman of parks and recreation.

But I’ll take my recreation at the dump. Being a connoisseur of trash-heaps, I love the characters and things I encounter in such Gehennas. Also I reflect upon how I might grow rich, if only I had patience and time sufficient to comb dumps thoroughly,

One can make a living, in the long run or the short, as a cheerful scavenger. My friend little Rosemary, as passionately devoted to dumps as is your servant, now and again speaks of the great civility of the dump-brotherhood. On one occasion when, lonely as a cloud, Rosemary scanned the surface of the Saginaw dump for treasure-trove, she beheld two shabby men—one a Mexican, the other a Negro—simultaneously approaching a derelict ham, green only in spots. But they did not contest the possession of this tasty prize. “You saw it first,” said the Negro, almost bowing, with high courtesy.

“No, no, amigo,” replied the Mexican, not to be outdone in generosity, “is yours.” After some further exchange of kindnesses, the Negro gave way to the Mexican’s entreaties, accepted the ham, and bore it homeward.

There are pearls of great price in our town dumps. What wastrels and spendthrifts we Americans have become! Valuable machinery, antique furniture, excellent lumber, good toys, precious lead and copper, uninjured china and silverware, and all manner of fine things are tossed away by the victims of fad and foible. So if you would prosper, friend, at no great expense of energy, assert squatter’s rights; build yourself a little house of scrap boards hard by the town dump, and rake that accumulation as if you were a beachcomber. I know of several hardy families who, by this simple method, really have supported in comfort a numerous progeny.

What won’t fools throw away! During the Second World War, no small number of silly patriots donated their silverware sets, perhaps untouched wedding-presents, to the scrap drive, Of course you can’t forge silver knives and forks into mortars. So, very sensibly, the colored employees at the Detroit scrap-drive dumps either appropriated these splendid sets to their own use, or sold them in the second-hand shops of Michigan Avenue. Would that I had been there!

Or people inadvertently throw out with the trash their dearest possessions. At a paper-mill near Monroe, Michigan, where cardboard was manufactured out of old rags and papers, all sorts of enticing things used to turn up when one skimmed the surface of the sludge: gold wedding-rings, silverware again, coin of the realm, literally diamonds and pearls. These had fallen into the wastebasket and so found their way to delighted new proprietors.

O give me a home where the scavengers roam! A chance prize, snatched up from the ashes, is ever so much dearer to my pack-rat heart than some pedestrian acquisition earned in the sweat of my literary brow.