Precious Metal in the Hills of Bremerton

Carol Ferguson.JPG

Carol Ferguson knows what rots the teeth and brains of Bremertonians.

She knows when someone drinks too much, and if they are a litterbug, she will know.

She knows because just about every day for the last 25 years the 74-year-old retired shipyard worker walks the streets, picking up after others.

Carol picks up aluminum cans, not bottles, but she will occasionally pick up the small brown bags in which single, cheap, powerful beers are packaged.

“I don’t nearly get all of them.”

When she finds one, in the grass, in the dirt, in the gutter, she kicks and prods it onto the pavement, stomps it with a cross-trainer, then uses a special picker-upper-stick she invented to pluck the crushed can from the pavement and place it in a plastic bag.

“I never did develop an appetite for beer.”

Does she find more soda cans, or alcohol cans?

“I think it’s pretty much half and half.”

She walks for miles at a time. Starting at her house near downtown Saturday afternoon, she heads toward Naval Avenue. She tries different routes every day, and she walks and picks up after Bremerton’s parties all year. On Saturday she planned a detour to visit a blooming rhododendron.

“This time of year is especially nice because of the flowers.” She is standing in front of a giant magenta rhododendron almost as tall as the house it helps hide. She guesses it is 100 years old.

“Absolutely gorgeous.”

Friday night left Saturday morning with empty off-brand cream soda cans and lime flavored alcopops with green tabs. They are in doorways and atop utility boxes. The cans of soda aren’t diet, and the cans of watery booze aren’t spendy.

Carol doesn’t drink soda. She used to, but stopped for health reasons. She is an avid recycler, and at home doesn’t produce many empty cans.

“I like little cans of grape juice.”

Does she resent the people that leave their trash on the streets?

“Maybe a little bit. But it doesn’t bother me too much. Maybe a little. I figure i could do some good by picking them up. I don’t really see any excuse for it.”

Carol carries a special tool she made, a bamboo stick with several wire prongs duct taped to one end.

The bottom of the wires are gnarled, perfect for fishing a can out of a bush, and, once smashed, picking it up with the minimum of effort.

But there is another necessity that required invention.

“You don’t want to have to touch them.”

Carol is from Longbranch on the Key Peninsula, but has lived in Bremerton for 45 years. She moved here with her husband, William. William died in 2005. He was almost 75.

“So I’m a widow now.”

They built their house in 1965.

“I’ve had to have a few repairs on it, but I’m pretty much able to keep it up.”

She is outfitted in a rain coat adorned with patches from Alaska and Scotland – two of the faraway places she has visited – a backpack and a baseball cap.

Sometimes she goes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. Except Sundays.

And Mondays, when she goes hiking with the appropriately-named outdoors group The Monday Hikers.

It’s good exercise. She’s a member of the YMCA, but when she goes she ends up walking.

“You can do other things while you are walking.”

And besides, Carol is happy with her usual fitness regiment.

“I don’t go in for exercise machines.”

When she returns home she drops off her spoils in the bed of a pickup truck sitting in her driveway. It’s an older model with an Amnesty International sticker on the back window.

“I’m not getting rich.”

She estimates a truckload earns her about $10. She wonders if that covers the gas it takes to deliver the cans, but she is always greeted warmly when she arrives.

“The guy likes to see me coming, he’s making something.”

Carol has been retired 20 years, and figures she’s been walking and picking up cans for about that long. She worked in the supply center at the shipyard. She remembers when Bremerton had a lively core, and she remembers when it emptied out.

“It was really dead down there when everybody moved to Silverdale.”

She doesn’t avoid any streets or neighborhoods out of fear.

“I’m not afraid to go anywhere, as long as it’s day light. I wouldn’t go out after dark.”

She likes what she sees happening in downtown, and attended the public opening of the Bremerton Marina.

“I’m glad they’re doing something.”

She used to ride her bike more, but walking is just easier. She does drive, but not as much as she used to.

“The more the price of gas goes up, the more I walk.”

One thought on “Precious Metal in the Hills of Bremerton

  1. People like this make me feel nice inside. I’m glad she’s out there and proud to say she’s never picked up anything of mine.

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