My family would go camping up at Turquoise Lake when I was young. My brother and I loved sleeping in the tent, cooking outside, hiking to find wild strawberries, and playing in and around the lake. We would stay for a few days, and just before we left, when all of our things were packed up, we would do one last check of the camp site.

“Ok,” my mom would say, “time to find your 20 things.”

This meant 20 pieces of trash. They could be small. It could be a bit of plastic broken off a bread bag closure, a hair tie, a cigarette butt.

“Mom” I would complain “we didn’t make this trash! We already cleaned up everything we brought.”

“Yes,” she would say… “but we’re going to leave this campsite a little cleaner, a little better than we found it.”

On rare occasion we would get to bring friends on camping trips with us. I still remember my friend looking at me and asking “is your mom serious?” when we got to this point. Yep. She sure was. My brother and I weren’t the only ones who got this lesson. Friends too.

My mom and dad also hunted for small bits of trash. We each had to find 20 things.

This year, when my partner and I were car camping up near Pingree Park (well before the Cameron Peak fire started), I found myself looking at the ground, seeing the trash instead of the view. I found myself cleaning the campsite, picking up pieces of glass, cigarette butts, plastic, shells, nails. It was hard to see our wild spot so used. After I’d picked up 150? 200? pieces, we enjoyed our evening outside, our campfire (legal at the time), being out under the stars.

And we left it a little cleaner, a little better than we found it.