About this sponsorship: In honor of the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Mount Everest, Patch and Grape-Nuts are teaming up to highlight those who inspire people around them to climb their own mountains.
Surrounded by tall trees and glittering creek water, Urbandale resident Monte Halferty feels he’s part of nature. But fast food bags and other trash don’t fit into his picture. So, he travels local trails in his wheelchair picking up litter to keep the place he loves beautiful.
Halferty’s project helps him stay fit, connect to his spirituality, and enjoy the company of people and dogs he meets. He hopes his work helps city employees maintain the parks, and plans to keep at it for the rest of his life.
Here, Halferty details the wonderment he feels outdoors and why keeping nature clean is so important to him.
Q: What inspired you to start picking up trash at trails?
A: When I moved to Urbandale in 2003 and discovered our wonderful trail system, I realized here was a convenient way for me, someone with a physical disability, to have access to our beautiful natural world. This is something I didn't have in the other neighborhoods I had lived in. I hopped in my wheelchair and started exploring. With every bend of the trail I discovered something new. A beautiful tree well over a hundred years old at the top of an underpass, waterfalls that sparkled in the sun and murmured over the rocks below them, and a peaceful meadow in which I experience a return to wholeness that is also a place of interconnectedness (my word) for me.
I have been blessed to meet many wonderful human beings, along with many of their canine companions. I am also a dog lover, but am not able to have one, so my trail time allows me joyful connection with them. There are so many I would love to give a shout-out to! My inspiration to begin picking up litter came from a desire to give back to all the beings that together create the living majesty that is our trail system, to thank them in even a small way for all they give to me from life itself onward.
When I began my trail adventures, I knew that but for the work of our Parks and Recreation Department, I and many others would have no way or where to reach and enjoy the beautiful places, wheel our chairs, ride our bikes, or walk our dogs. They are the unsung heroes of our trail system who work in all weathers (I know this because I've encountered them!) to maintain, expand and improve our trails and parks. I am now privileged to count many of our Parks and Recreation staff members as friends of mine, and I want the little bit I do to be a thank-you to them and to free up a little of their time so they can do even more.
Q: In what ways have you found the trash removal project rewarding?
A: I consider this question almost a continuation of the previous one. First and foremost, I know I am giving back, even if only in small ways, to our sacred Earth, and to all the other sacred beings I encounter when I'm out. I see my cleaning as a form of "physical gratitude." My trail time also rewards me in that it is a great way for me to get physical exercise working my arms abdomen, and back, especially when I get myself stuck, which I have a knack for doing!
Another way I am rewarded by the work I do is in the lessons I receive while doing it. The natural world teaches me that all things are both interconnected and interdependent. The forests, creek, and open spaces are living embodiments of this. When I leave my home, built by humans and full of human-created objects, I am reminded of another lesson; namely, that I am a part of all that is around me, not apart from it, or above it, but a creation of it. I am taught wonderful lessons in human smallness, and healthy humility. All the like forms that I interact with, from the smallest insect to the mightiest tree are life-givers and can exist perfectly well without the presence of me, the human, while I, the human, cannot exist without them. They are far more important than me.
I am rewarded in my work through these lessons because when I embrace them, I experience a sense of homecoming, belonging, and a healing of isolation. The best cure for any kind of sadness I know of is to get outside. Now I see my time on the trails as a Spiritual pathway and vocation, and best of all, the rewards come in beautiful packages of the wind in the trees, birdsong, and sunlight shining through autumn leaves!
Q: What keeps you optimistic?
A: The amount of litter that needs to be picked up can be quite a downer, especially in the spring after my winter absence! My connection to the positive is reinforced whenever I can be out experiencing the beauty around me. I always get a boost when I run into one of my friends (especially when it's a dog!), and whenever I am acknowledged. I am also reminded that though human beings created the litter, many other human people have helped me with reaching pieces that I can't, and have helped me with a snack and/or a cold drink on a hot day. These good interactions bring a positive balance back.
Q: Do you still work to keep parks clean nowadays? Are you working on any new projects like this?
A: Yes, I am still going out there and working away with my sticks and grabbers, and I hope to continue to do so until the conclusion of my Earth walk. My hope is that I can be a very small catalyst in encouraging others to pick up a little when they are out, and also to not leave that fast food sack under a tree, or that water bottle along the trail. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the non-human and human beings who make being on our trails such a gift, from my wonderful trees and meadow to the staff of Parks and Recreation who give me such beautiful places to roam (and who have come to my rescue!), to the men and women of the Urbandale Police Department who give their time to check on me, have befriended me, and have come to my rescue at times! All of you make being out on our trails the gift that it is for me.