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An elliptical exercise machine sits by a section line in Burleigh County, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

The Sorting Pen: Don't dump your junk in the country

When you're out driving around, looking for stories in yet-to-be-planted fields, there are things you expect to see. Tractors, maybe. Farmers. Puddles, if you're talking this spring. But as I was out driving a quiet gravel road the other day, I saw something I most certainly did not expect.

An elliptical machine.

Yes, a piece of exercise equipment was sitting there, on a section line in rural Burleigh County, N.D. Unless someone is starting some kind of weird theme gym, it seems pretty likely that someone was using the section line as their personal dumping grounds.

This isn't completely unusual for rural areas. Up the road from our farm, someone once dumped a recliner in a borrow pit. It still sits there in part; no one is sure whose it is or what to do with it. As time has gone on, I'm fairly certain it has stopped being a recliner and started being a home for any number of critters.

The remains of what used to be a recliner sit in a borrow pit in Stutsman County, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)Acquaintances sent me photos and anecdotes of the junk they've seen. One photo was of a television tossed in a slough, or as the lady wryly described it, "a wild TV in its natural habitat." Another lady explained how, while working for the park service at Knife River Indian Villages in high school, staff would find water heaters along the river shore. Not one water heater, mind you — water heaters.

What possesses people to drive out to an open area and just dump their garbage? I've never had the urge to drive into town and toss things I don't want into someone's yard. The dusty elliptical machine in my basement will stay there, mostly unused, until the day I haul it to the dump. I'm not going to throw it into the hay field down the road.

And, I should explain, many of us in rural areas don't even have garbage service. We burn what garbage we can burn and sometimes have to take items that shouldn't be or can't be burned to the dump, where we pay to leave our garbage. We don't want to have to haul and pay for anyone else's garbage.

It isn't, of course, just inanimate objects that get dumped in the country. People assume their no-longer-wanted cats and dogs will find happy homes on farms if they dump them on the side of the road. At least I assume that's what they assume. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they don't realize they may be relegating their pets to starvation and death.

We once took in a dog that apparently had been dumped by the interstate and made her way up to the farm. She was a sweet dog. After checking with neighbors and veterinarians and others for lost dogs, she became a farm dog. She lived out her days with us, much loved.

But I always wondered where she came from. Was someone moving and didn't want to take her to a new home? Had they tired of the responsibility of having a dog? Dixie, as she came to be known, was kind and gentle, good with kids and generally inobtrusive. Was she missing the family that left her?

She, of course, was lucky. We fed her and cared for her. Others don't necessarily find their place.

So if you have a dog or a cat or a treadmill or an old couch, take care of it properly. Just because we live in a place with wide open spaces doesn't mean we want those spaces filled with your stuff.