I bring a trash bag when I take my dog for walks along Cundy’s Harbor Road. Once I found a giant empty Rubbermaid trash can in the ditch. I used that moment to teach my dog situational irony. Another time I found an iPhone that, by the looks of it, had spent the entire winter in suspended animation. It turned out to be permanent suspended animation. My most curious find was a pair of nice hiking poles lying among the weeds. I searched around for a body but never did find one. One morning I came across two dozen unused earplugs strewn along the side of the road and, the next day, emptied fireworks tubes. I once found a lobster trap whose green metal wire effectively camouflaged it among the ferns and from the lobster in the ocean a half-mile away. I’ve found tools like hammers, saws, and drill bits. And I’ve found frayed rope tied in all kinds of ways, but none tight enough to hold onto whatever it was lashed to.

But of all the cans, bottles, hiking poles, boards, ropes, rubber gloves, broken pails, and Styrofoam packaging I’ve come across, the litter I treasure most is a plastic sandwich bag.

When I picked up the sandwich bag, covered with dried mud and dots of black mold, I noticed someone had written on it a message in permanent black marker:

Bolonga? + Cheese 🙂

Thank you for being so amazing. I’ve finally found the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. You are forever safe and loved with me. My heart is 100% yours. I thank God every day for you. I can’t wait to keep growing in love. Our life is going to be so b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. 🙂 

Always + forever, love, (woman’s first name)

I’m very happily married. Still, the most magical words my wife has ever said to me on a sandwich bag are, and I quote, “w/o mustard.” The message on this little bag communicates something bolder. It is a declaration of love, of commitment, a shared future. Like the speaker in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish,” as I looked around me — at a tire just visible several yards into the woods, at a plastic bag firmly wrapped around a branch, at a beer bottle filled with tobacco juice, victory filled up my contractor’s trash bag and everything became rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

Despite my epiphany, a menacing thought came to mind. Who had allowed this treasure to become trash? Was the sandwich eaten and the bag and the sentiments expressed carelessly flung out the window? Simply put, was the recipient an idiot? Some jerk to be ditched?

Or maybe I’m too quick to judge and this “amazing” person walks along the roadside even now, desperately looking for the treasured words that the wind viciously pulled out of their hand while they were driving with the window down.

If you haven’t guessed already, I didn’t place the sandwich bag into the mounds of trash I had picked up. Instead I brought it inside my house, lovingly washed it with soap and warm water, and placed it in my desk drawer. I don’t know how long I’ll keep it. Maybe I’m waiting for the beloved to nail photos of a sandwich bag on telephone poles around the neighborhood with a number to call “if found.” Until they do, finders keepers — my treasure, which once masqueraded as trash, stays with me.

Gregory Greenleaf lives in Harpswell and teaches high school English. He ascribes, prescribes and subscribes to many old-fashioned ideas, but especially Charles Dickens’ observation that “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”