What we leave behind

When you frequent the green places and the edge-lands, you notice the things that people leave behind.  I am fascinated by those leavings that jar the senses because they don’t seem to belong.  Not the thoughtless litter that blights the landscape, but those objects that once had purpose but have now been forgotten.

Walking through the dene, I have a sense of something that shouldn’t be there.  Something dangles within the branches of a small tree.  I look closer and find a golden duck swinging among the leaves.  Not the kind of duck I usually see here, but a tiny cartoon duck with huge eyes and a wide smile.  Lost property?  A whimsical decoration?  Or an offering?  I smile at the incongruous duck and walk on.  Further in, on a rock by the pond, someone has propped a pair of flip flops.  There is no sign of their owner, as though he or she waded into the pond and was swallowed up, though the water is far too shallow for that.  How is it possible to leave a pair of shoes behind?  Was their owner abducted by water sprites, or did they simply want to feel the rustle of autumn leaves between their toes?

Some things are lost and unlikely ever to be reclaimed.  The upended umbrella on the railway embankment, the woollen glove ground into mud, the rubber glove with cracked fingers on the beach.  These lost things become part of the landscape.  I have watched the umbrella brim with leaves in autumn and gather snow in winter for two years now.  It has become so deeply buried into the land that only its curved handle remains visible.  It is no longer an umbrella, it is an extension of the earth.  I have watched the offerings made to the shoe tree in the park reproduce over the years, until they are hued green and crusted with lichen, like strange fruit born of the tree itself.

Some objects have uncertain provenance.  The child’s dinosaur in a rock pool that may have been dropped on the beach or may have arrived with the tide from some far off land.  Some speak of mischief or malice, like the shopping trolley in the burn or the empty bottles displayed on the rocks like the flutes of a church organ.  Some speak of helpful strangers – odd gloves propped on the spikes of the railings in the square in the hope that their owners will find them.  Some are left with purpose, like the dozens of knitted angels that appeared like magic all over town one Christmas, so unexpectedly that we smiled and talked of nothing else for hours.

If ever there was an object that seems destined to be left behind, it is the hapless glove.  I have seen so many lost gloves that I have begun to feel sorry for them.  I wonder how many are left in unexpected places.  How many are left to rot in the earth, or to be pulled apart by tiny beaks and teeth to add warmth to dens and nests.  And how many of their partners languish in drawers, never to be reunited.  How many gloves lie in landfill, little woollen hands waving among the rubbish, perhaps finding their way to other lost gloves to form a mismatched pair.  If animals wore clothes, I expect there would be tiny, paw-shaped gloves discarded all over the landscape.

The things we leave behind us always tell a story.   It may be as simple as a glove dropped carelessly while walking.  It may be that the glove was dropped because that person had something very specific on their mind.  There is the real story of why the item was lost and then there is the story imagined by its finder.  No matter how lightly we tread upon the earth, we can’t help but leave things behind.  We are part of the landscape as much as the trees and the birds, and while they leave feathers and twigs and tracks in the mud, we leave parts of ourselves too, in the objects that once had use or meaning for us.  There are things we leave behind deliberately – the heirlooms and trinkets that fill attics and cabinets – but I wonder if it is the things we give up without meaning to that tell our most intriguing stories.

 

 

119 thoughts on “What we leave behind

  1. Thank you Andrea for shining a positive light on human littering. You’ve seen something in it that I have never been able to. These items we leave laying around will not degrade or rot away – I suppose eventually they will be buried under leaf litter and earth – and to me are a sign of how we abuse the planet; part of our throwaway, consuming lifestyles, our accumulation of stuff. You have reminded me that these items do tell a story and are part of humankind’s footprint on the world.

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  2. What a lovely article this is.. I’ll never look at the left-behind things again in quite the same way. I was especially touched by this line, “If animals wore clothes, I expect there would be tiny, paw-shaped gloves discarded all over the landscape.”
    Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Objects like these have made appearances in my life and inspired similar thoughts, such as a walking cane I found by a river which certainly brought many possibilities to mind. You express this phenomenon so eloquently and your pictures which accompany it speak volumes. Thank you for your beautiful post!

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  4. Andrea, this is a lovely ‘trip’ through things and how they populate and brush up against nature. It’s fun to discover things at kids’ playgrounds, too. Shoes flung over an electric line about 50 feet up, LEGOs, watches, combs, occasionally silver (change), a camera lens cover, etc. I once wrote a story about a single shoe found on a highway or interstate; do you see that in the UK? Over here, whenever there’s a shoe on the road or interstate, it’s always a single, without fail. I got to wondering why and came up with a ghost story from it; it has potential, but I think I wrote it too quaintly and from a child’s POV. Anyhow, this is a great piece of writing, as always. Reminds me a little, although obviously the subject matter is very different, of Tim O’Brien’s prize-winning story about Vietnam troops, called “The Things They Carried.” Have you ever read that? If anything, to the best of my memory, in its meditation on war it’s a clarion call for peace. We might possibly have our first snow of the almost-winter this week, though it’s supposed to be light. In any case, have a wonderful week.

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    • Thanks Leigh, I do occasionally see lost shoes, but more often it’s gloves! Your ghost story sounds interesting – there is something ghostly or sinister about some of these lost things. I haven’t read the story, but I’ll have to look out for it. We had our first snow in the last week, winter had definitely arrived though today there is sunshine.

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  5. Whenever I see a left or lost object I immediately wonder about the owner. Have they missed it? Did it upset them to lose it? Especially when it’s from a child – and oh a stuffed toy….can break my heart. Such a lovely post Andrea….heartwarming. Thank you. Janet x

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  6. Thank you Andrea for helping me look at these items left behind differently. Wondering about the story, intent, person, life, makes it so much more interesting than the simple judgment of it being bad or trash. Which is what I too often do or start picking up the trash. Thanks for looking deeper at the human story.

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  7. Last year I lost one of my favorite gloves. I’m sure it didn’t make it all the way over to the UK. Wouldn’t that be funny? Heh. Gloves seem to be like those dastardly socks that get lost in the wash. Somehow one goes missing. Lovely piece, as usual, Andrea.

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  8. When it is not plastic bags or food wrappers, I too always wonder about the story behind an incongruous object left somewhere. Unfortunately the accumulation of what humans leave behind is staggering according to a recent article I read (ow.ly/Zl4j30gQpjB), definitely not as picturesque, and something future generations will have to deal with.

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  9. This is lovely, Andrea. Wonderful wanderings.
    Actually as to some of the above comments: I think it’s very easy to distinguish between ‘litter’ and ‘trash’ and items either lost or deliberately ‘left behind’. I have been known to ‘leave my mark’ via a special rosebud, rock or even a bottle cap…I really relate to the person who hung that duck charm in the branches.
    The ‘left behind things’ I don’t understand, especially on a cleanliness level, are the purposely placed half bottles of water by a fork in the trail or under a tree…I think they’re for others to drink, but I wouldn’t ever. The other possibility is that they were set out for a dog to drink, but then if I don’t trust it for myself, why would I for my dog?

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  10. What a great way of looking at Nature being trashed… Such scenery always sparks many feelings inside First, the lost items must be sad for human owners. Second, Nature doesn’t need anything extra to make it perfect. However, the little duck keychain is really cute.
    When I was a child, I used to wander into the woods, off the main concrete path. So many things were lost apparently in the offbeat trails, which became my treasure-one of my fave finds was the pair of male and female Russian Matreshkas. Who would have lost them in the woods? However, they were cherished for quite a while…

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  11. Hello Andrea, I hope you are well.
    What we leave behind ( your post), shows your ability to make good out of the bad. I would have been hopping about with steam coming out of my ears, letting my anger wash away creativity, and spoil my walk.
    I will remember this the next time that I’m chuntering on about litter.
    Keep well.
    Mick.

    P.S Love the Oink’s. (Oyster Catchers)

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  12. I have had similar thoughts (and writings) about these lost items. I, too, wonder about those lost shoes on the highways – seriously, how in the name of hell does that happen anyway?
    Lovely writing, as usual!

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  13. Lovely post, Andrea and I’ve often wondered about these lost items…seen quite a few gloves already this season! Oh yes, what are their stories…and how could anyone forget shoes!! I love the idea of the knitted angels appearing and no wonder this became the subject of conversation long after. Here’s to lost things and their tales…😀❤️

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  14. What a different, beautiful way of looking at ‘lost objects.’ I tend to get frustrated and upset when I see ‘human’ things marring the beautiful landscape, like a leftover mug, a woolen hat, a crumbled up love letter. You, though, find beauty in the marring. Reminds me of two things: when I brush my grand-dog’s long golden hair, I pull out the leftover hair from his dog brush and place it in nearby bushes. My guy thinks I’m rather strange. But those “leftovers,” I figure, could be used by birds for their nest, or for protection from the cold. The other memory is my sis-in-law inadvertently losing her wedding ring on the beach in the summer. No matter how much we looked, it was gone to the sand and the surf. The next morning we returned to the beach to sun and swim. As I sat in my chair, a wave brought over something sparkly. Yes, the ring. How incredible is that? The ocean found and returned a beloved item. Mother Nature giving a hug and a kiss in her own way.

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    • I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how when we praise nature, it’s often a nature without humans in it – and though I do prefer my nature to appear unsullied, there’s very little of it that we haven’t touched in one way or another. I’m trying to be more accepting of the human place in the landscape. You remind me of a Newfoundland dog I once knew (well you don’t, your story does 🙂 ). We would see her hair all over the park and know that she’d been there before us. The story of the wedding ring is amazing! I still sometimes think about a quartz crystal necklace that went missing, seemingly from my bedroom – they do say that some crystals leave us when we don’t need them anymore 🙂

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      • I had to laugh- as far as I know, I’ve never before reminded someone of a Newfoundland dog. 🙂 I liked the idea of birds using my dog’s fur to soften their nest. And on to crystals and jewels. I had read a meditation on finding ‘lost’ things. A few days later, as I was unclasping a necklace my mom had given me (with an aquamarine stone – my favorite), the stone fell off the necklace and I could not find it ANYWHERE. I was on my hands and knees, all over counters, floors, for over an hour. And then I stopped and meditated on my ‘lost thing.’ My hand floated to my shirt pocket and, sure enough, the aquamarine stone had settled into the bottom of that pocket. If I hadn’t stopped and just …. stopped, I would have figured it lost forever. xo

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  15. A beautiful post, Andrea, and a positive light shed on human leavings! I once found a dumbbell, with 15 lbs of weights on it, sitting bedside the road in the rural town where I grew up. How it got there, and why, I will never know. There were no houses anywhere near it. I was 14 years old at the time, and out walking. I picked up the dumbbell and carried it home. I still have it, and use it.

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  16. I love to see the things you encounter on your walks through your eyes. Your imagination creates wonderful stories. There is a lone chair that sits under a tree in the vacant lot next to my apartment. I pass it every time I walk to the grocery store. Maybe I will someday write a story about it.

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  17. Wonderful thoughts, Andrea. Personally, it drives me crazy when I (rarely) lose things. I back track and scour, sometimes successfully, but nearly haunted when I can’t find it…like the Italian glove I lost in NYC, never to be seen again. And yes, I kept the mate, if only for its soft leather and perfect craftsmanship.

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  18. I think you’re right about “the most intriguing stories,” Andrea. This is a lovely post. Poignant yet a little fanciful.
    I used to often notice a single shoe left in the middle of a highway. It was always just one shoe, not a pair. It always left me wondering how someone could lose just one shoe, in the road… LOL.
    Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I enjoyed this imaginative post, Andrea. Upon noticing the lost items, I would likely have reacted with sadness that the scenic views had been desecrated rather than with curiosity about the underlying stories. Well done.

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  20. LOVE THIS, Andrea. I just tweeted it with the hashtags #trash #loss #identity so maybe that tells you where this took me. I have been reading Jen Payne’s new poetry book and will be reviewing it not this coming Monday, but the week after. The thematic thread (to use a pun) is about the dental flossers we leave behind. You and she have done similar things with these ideas.

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  21. Love the way you give a story to items either accidently lost or purposely left behind. I also enjoy imagining who owned this glove or that flip-flop, like I love to imagine who read the stained book I borrowed from the library. What was this person drinking or eating? Where? Sometimes I find bookmarks or grocery lists or receipts in such books.
    Lovely post, as always, Andrea.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Riveting words. I do so love such lost things as well! It reminds me of a Tinkerbell movie, where through Lost Things Tinkerbell finds her calling as a tinker. Who could have left these things behind? Who will pick them up? What stains them? What good can they yet do?
    All questions worthy of a story.

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  23. Lovely post, Andrea. I’m always finding lost things — mostly gloves and shoes. Sometimes I’ve known who they’ve belonged to and knocked on the person’s door. You should see their surprise, pleasure, and slight puzzlement that I’ve actually noticed them wearing these things in the first place! One person lost a shoe outside our front door — a sparkly party shoe. I should think the whole street knew who that one belonged to, as we all heard her coming home at two in the morning in a very merry mood! Sadly I lost my gold Celtic Cross and chain in the woods one Autumn and never found it again. I hope that someone did find it and treasure it, as it would be sad to think of it trodden underfoot and buried, when I loved it so much. There are all sorts of strange things dumped in the woods, too, that become part of them in the end.

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  24. This reminds me of walks with my grandfather. He was a Norfolk farmer and me and my sisters spent many hours trudging across his fields as he walked his dogs. His fields were speckled with bits of broken white clay pipe, presumably from the men who had worked on the fields in times gone by. So we would look for them and also flints because my grandfather had picked up stone age flints there and an arrow head both of which I have on my desk now. My mother used to comment on how comfortable the flint was to hold in your hand and she was right there’s a very convenient indentation for the thumb! The umbrella makes me think of what happens in London when there’s rain and strong wind and broken umbrellas appear all over the place usually stabbed into bins in a rage!

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  25. Interesting post, Andrea. Makes me wonder where our place fits in the world. The things we leave behind seems out of place in context to what’s natural. Reminds me of a photo hubby once took of an old deteriorated roof and in the middle of broken boards was an empty beer bottle. Thank you for sharing your reflections.

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  26. Love your article, Andrea. I find it very moving when someone picks up a lonely glove and hangs it on the fence. Your words made me think about everything I have left behind, tangible and intangible. The day will come and we will leave our loyal bodies to this earth because it is where we have left everything else. Because we don’t have any other place.
    Hope you have a wonderful December!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. The left-behind things certainly provide food for thought. I go on long trips of possibility, making up stories about the hapless, absent- minded adult or busy child who left an object behind. Great post, Andrea, that took me on a journey too.

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  28. Gloves, shoes, hats — they seem to frequently pop up in strange places. Lost shoes always befuddle me. How does one lose one shoe?? I can understand pretty much anything else, even losing a single mitten or glove. But a shoe?

    Other frequently abandoned objects I see are baseballs, tennis balls, and soccer balls. But those make a lot of sense to me!! 🙂

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  29. I love the lyrical nature of this posting. Although I wish you would post more often, when you do post, it is definitely worth waiting for. I love the stories you spin around the left behind items.

    Like

  30. The things we leave behind are like our imprint on the world. Some good, some like a message and some destructive as in toxic waste or litter. I once found my daughter’s hand knitted scarf all neatly folded laying on a park bench, in Japan, awaiting our return after it had slipped off her neck when we were walking around the city earlier in the day! Such thoughtful communication and selfless act by the passer by who found it.

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  31. Here’s another example of your remarkable ability to observe the most mundane things and give them meaning. I’ve seen dozens of similar items, always somewhat annoyed that they “clutter” nature! But your line, “No matter how lightly we tread upon the earth, we can’t help but leave things behind” has taken the burden off – a benediction of sorts – for all of us who travel carefully, yet “leave things behind.” Thank you, Andrea!

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  32. Wonderful post and photos. Any lost item or item left behind seems lonely, doesn’t it? Though not related to natural landscapes, the story I am recalling is about a cap I bought for a young friend of mine (she was four years old at the time), and I accidentally dropped it outside the restaurant where we were scheduled to meet her and her parents. Oddly enough, her parents found the cap on their way in and picked it up, not knowing it was for their little girl. Happy ending for the cap!

    Like

  33. What a lovely way to say goodbye to those lost gloves and other items. Lost n’ found items always raise curiosity and as you had mentioned there’s always a story in there. No matter how mismatched the story is, though.

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