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The mystery of the toppled blue bin

It’s vacation time and, like so many, I was driving north on the I-5 on my way to the beautiful Oregon coast. It was one of the first genuinely warm days we’ve had, with winter seeming to bypass spring and giving way directly to summer with a 90-degree day.

Something caught my eye on the side of the road as I cruised by: a largish plastic bin, the kind in which you store holiday decorations or winter clothes. It was toppled over, near the side of the freeway just off the slow lane and had rolled a bit down the slope. Standing nearby was a young couple, and it seemed to me they were arguing. He was thin, she was not. Below the short sleeves of his T-shirt I could see numerous arm tats, and his worn jeans hung loosely about his hips. Her tank top and jeans didn’t look new either. They stood there just off the freeway, hot and dusty, as cars zoomed by. Their car, if they had one, was nowhere in sight: just a blue plastic bin and a duffel bag on the ground between them.

I drove past, this brief screenshot in my brain, and began imagining what the scenario might be. Were all of their worldly possessions in that bin and small duffel? Had he kicked the bin over in a pique or, perhaps, had she? They were miles from an off-ramp. Had they been hitchhiking and dropped off in the middle of nowhere?

Who knows?

My mind drifted to what it would be like to have the sum total of one’s possessions in a blue plastic tub with a lid and one duffel. Students do it for limited periods of time: backpack and camera in hand (and debit card and cell phone), they hit the road — if they’re lucky enough — to explore the world before settling into the daily routines that seem to claim so much of our lives as adults.

I began to wonder: What would it be like to have so few possessions? Of course, that raises the question of whether or not such a lack of possessions is voluntary or due to want. If voluntary, as in the case of a vow of poverty by a Catholic or Buddhist monk, it can be liberating. Just think of the time we spend paying for, caring for, and storing our possessions.

But if not voluntary, how does it feel to own so little? What sense of importance does it take on? How would it really feel to have everything one owns in a single blue, plastic storage tub?

It would feel, most probably, awful, for it would not be enough. There would be no cherished stuffed animal or familiar cooking pan or inherited set of dishes or precious photo albums, or even one’s favorite coffee mug, let alone enough clean towels or sheets, or snuggly sweaters, thick wool socks and warm jackets to give comfort in the dead of winter.

As I sped down the freeway, now miles past the couple, I thought of how fortunate we are to live in Ashland and to have so much at our fingertips. We have an abundance of organic, locally sourced food. We can enjoy, for free, the beauty of Lithia Park. For those who can afford it, we have culture to feed the soul. We have numerous coffee shops where we have the luxury of deciding between a latte or a mocha or an espresso.

I will never know the truth behind that roadside drama. What I do know is that such a fleeting image filled me with an awareness and sense of gratitude that my own worldly possessions do not fit into a single plastic tub.

— Award-winning author, TV presenter and world traveler Susanne Severeid is an Ashland resident who enjoys making time for the important things in life — including mocha. Read more of her columns at bit.ly/adtssmm. For more, go to www.susannesevereid.com. Email her at susannewebsite@olypen.com.