Leave It Better Than You Found It

MGMT has a song called “Kids” (that the kids love to play on the piano-to our amusement), with a line in it that says, “Control yourself, take only what you need from it”. I like that. It reminds me of one of the better lessons I have learned in this life from my Dad. Leave it better than you found it. 
When I was a kid, we would go camping, hiking or out fighting ants and birds over ripe raspberries downstate, and no matter where we went, we made sure that when we left, so did all the litter lying around. 
As I grew, I found a guy that also kept to this same credo (so I married him!). We’re campers. We’ve camped through southern Ontario’s Provincial Parks, upstate NY, Colorado, Moab, Utah and the Green Mountains of Vermont. We would at times camp in an allotted site, but usually we would drive off-road and find our own place. Showers, be damned!  We carried in everything we needed.
One adventure, as we pulled off a dirt road and drove the Jeep into the mountains, we found a bike path amidst the pine trees with a fire pit, so we pitched the tent. True roughing it. It was also the best ‘bathroom’ view I have ever seen: looking over the tops of miles of trees. A close second is the 96th Floor women’s bathroom in the Hancock overlooking Chicago-but I digress (no way!). 
We would always spend a few minutes during each camping trip to fill up some bags with the garbage lying around the area. Those camp sites sure did look pretty when we left.
This summer, we shall be taking our kids camping for their first time. Sam is finally old enough that I won’t worry about him falling into the fire or running off somewhere (OK, I still will, but less so). We’ll also be sure to bring a few extra trash bags along with our s’mores, flashlights and bug spray to clean up the area before we leave.


It reminds me of the Golden Rule. Do to others as you want done to you. Leave a place how you’d like to find it. Take only what you need. Clean up after yourself. Be nice. How can you go wrong if you follow those simple (yet not so obvious) tenets?
P.S. Lee DeWyze has made it to the final round in American Idol- yay Lee! AND:
P.P.S. I would like to recognize another Mt. Prospector (or so I call us). Congratulations to Glenn Taylor on the release of his sophomore novel “The Marrowbone Marble Company”. He was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for his debut novel “The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart”. If you are a reader, you will really enjoy these. (He was even cool enough to come to our book club meeting for a visit too!)

Glenn & the ladies!


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  • Great post, Kelley! Bill & I like to camp too, and have actually been considering taking Dylan this summer for the first time as well. It is sad how people who go to enjoy the outdoors leave it so littered at the end of their stay. Let's keep it clean, people!

  • Thanks Khadine, this has always been important to me, and something I plan to pass along (now to maybe more than just my kids?)

  • Kelley, I agree with Khadine, great post! In not a huge camper (I've only been once in my adult life), but your message is universal. I get so angry when I see people drop something on the ground while they

  • Thank you, so right on! Also, go Lee! And go Glenn! Small miracle that no red wine made its way into that picture.

  • Oooh, Laura- I see I hit one of your hot topics too! Awesome- I thought about ranting about all the littering we see, but thought that might not get people motivated (I could go on and on over the crap people just throw anywhere-argh!)
    Amy- thank you- it is a wonder no wine was in there!

  • Oh, Kelley! I finally found something that separates us...I am NOT a camper type of gal, but I can totally relate to what you are saying. I get so angry when we go back home to a paradise beach and there is garbage sitting NEXT to the garbage cans...I don't get it either. Thanks for this great post and who knows, maybe I'll give camping another try when the kids get older :-)

  • Great post! We love to camp. We usually have done it in our pop-up in state parks. But, fun, nonetheless! There is something so magical about cooking your food in the great outdoors.

    I agree with what you say. My eldest goes on her first camping trip with girl scouts this weekend, in MI. She will sleep in the deep, dark woods, in a tent for the first time! Lilija will learn to set up her own tent and learn some basics about living outdoors. She will even brush her teeth in the woods, as well as cook outdoors. She is 7 years-old and very excited! We had fun shopping for all her goodies she will take with her.

    I'm sure with the scouts, they will be teaching the kids the importance of leaving the wild as they found it. This is why scouts is such a great thing for kids. It's really important to have them exposed to taking care of the world around them, especially at this impressionable young age!

  • As usual I'm in complete agreement with you, my friend! My kids are absolutely appalled when they see people through trash out thier car window - they just can't wrap thier heads around it. Seamus has even been known to pick up recycalbles we find on our walks to & from parks to bring home & dispose of properly (yes, I had to brag)

  • I don't camp, I know shocker. Amelia is going to have to go with Steve and you guys. I need my flip flops for showers even at 5 star hotels. I hate people who think that the streets are their personal trash can. Who teaches them that? Oh and I'm loving Mt. Prospect more and more. A published author!! You need to tell me more about these novels.

  • The more I learn about you, the more I like. We were meant to be friends. Josh and I just started camping again with the kids. They LOVE it! Ever hear of Letter Boxing? It's so much fun. It's like a treasure hunt on a lovely hike through the woods. When I ask my kids what the best part of camping is, they both said "Letter Boxing". Enjoy your campout (we are)!

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