There are bits and pieces all over the ground. They are left behind in a moment. They pockmark sidewalks and university campuses, stubbornly determined to stay put. Throughout my sophomore year (fall 2022, spring 2023), I have documented some of my many things found on the grounds of Brandeis University’s campus and the immediate surrounding Waltham area. Laid out before you now, I will highlight some of the more intriguing finds, providing commentary when necessary (it is always necessary).
- A single gummy worm, half blue and half red
In times of rain, worms leave the soil behind and sprawl out on the pavement. This worm shall do no such thing. Almost plasticine in texture, the gummy worm is forever stuck to the pavement.
- Victor Frankel’s “The Search for Meaning” book
I have not read this book. I have, admittedly, not searched for its synopsis. I find an irony in “The Search for Meaning” being lost on the ground. We are still searching for meaning, clearly.
- A Valentine’s Day heart, complete with message on back
This find was bittersweet. It was nice to know that we are still exchanging Valentines. I remember, back in third grade, how everyone would have a brown paper bag on their desks for the whole day, and everyone else would put Valentines inside of it. However, this Valentine is lost. I hope that the recipient had the chance to read it before it made its way to the ground.
- A plastic centipede
The plastic centipede lay on the floor of my friend’s dorm room. I assume he placed it there intentionally. Not everything found on the ground is lost.
- Raw egg, yolk leaking out
No carton could be found nearby. This could have been a baking disaster, though the egg was found outside and not near a kitchen. I hope that there were more eggs available.
- A whole avocado pit
This pit was polished perfectly. Not a speck of green to be found. The peel could not be located either. This must have been the most scrumptious and delicious avocado.
- A small eraser, shaped like a strawberry
Could have been strawberry scented, too. I did not lean down to check.
- A CD with John McDermott’s “A Day to Myself”
I have not listened to any of McDermott’s music. The CD was found alone on the ground with no accompaniments. It was, in a way, having a day to itself.
- The empty pouch from a Dill Pickle in a Pouch
Of all of the C-Store offerings, the concept of an entire pickle sold in a pouch amuses me the most. I hope that whoever ate the pickle enjoyed it. I do have to wonder where all of the pickle juice went. Did someone drink it? Or did it seep into the ground?
- Retainer for the lower set of teeth
A retainer is like a ghost of a bone, just the clear outline of the underlying teeth. It is therefore unnerving to find one loose on the ground, no container in sight.
- Instructional Manual for a “Lego Friends” build
I hope the Lego build was successful despite the lost instructions.
- Chewed piece of blue gum, nestled in snow
This find seemed almost intentional. The gum was seemingly placed perfectly in the center of snow in the shape of a brick. A pedestal for the gum made of snow. Perhaps the person anticipated the need to retrieve the gum at a later point in time.
- Black sock
Usually, I find abandoned socks in the laundry room. This one proved to be an outlier.
- A second, different, gummy worm that is blue and red
Brandeis campus is overrun by gummy worms. We may want to consider them to be an invasive species at this rate.
- Single piece of vegetable sushi
On a staircase, mind you! A vegetable sushi tragedy.
- Honorable mention: two orange traffic cones, which have been up a tree along Charles River since September 2022 and as of April 2023 have now disappeared.
Officially, this piece is about things found on the ground. By definition, things found in trees cannot be considered for the list. However, the absurdity of the situation called for an exception. Full-sized traffic cones are quite heavy; the wind cannot simply blow them up into the top of a tree. This can only mean that there was a dedicated effort on someone’s part to scale the tree and place the traffic cones up there. There appeared to be no construction going on up in the trees, and so the cones must have been placed unofficially. I am still thinking about the traffic cones.
We can learn a lot about what people leave behind. From the cave paintings in France to stone tools from long ago, humans have always left things behind. Today, what we leave behind reflects the industrialization of the times—many of the items on the list above are manufactured or grown from places far away from Waltham, Massachusetts. We seem to be defined by the trash left on the ground. And yet, the trash still tells a story of what we are interested and engaged in. Plastic is more durable than stone tools, and as such, will remain on the ground for a longer period of time. We should be aware of what we leave behind, striving to pick up what is on the ground. At the same time, it is fascinating to see what can be found on the ground and what the things left behind say about the community occupying the space.
In my first year, I focused on liminal spaces—the unoccupied spaces that are ominous and perhaps a little uncomfortable. In my sophomore year, especially in spring 2023, I have focused on what we leave behind in these spaces and common spaces. I am looking forward to discovering what my project will be in my junior year. Maybe a look at the people who live and work in these spaces? Only time will tell.