The activity I’m about to describe is familiar to all viewers of mystery series. The viewer will see a long line of policemen moving across a landscape side by side and poking the ground with sticks or clubs for clues. In those mysteries this seemingly happens instantly—as soon as some vital thing (like the murder-weapon or a lost child) needs to be found. I often marvel at the power of the Hero Detective who can summon up such masses of uniforms just minutes (seemingly) after the need arises.
In the Army they used to call this “policing.” We were marched out and made to move across open terrain every other morning or so—the object being to pick up litter. The word, of course, goes back to the Latin politia, civil administration—and its deepest root is the Greek polis, or city—a place where massed humans make a mess. Indeed “police” is powerfully associated with order, keeping and restoring it.
This is the nasty season hereabouts—and policing is in order. The snow has almost entirely disappeared and revealed the junk, branches, and litter it had covered over. My own policing was of the solitary kind, just one old man picking up branches and the occasional littered package or candy wrapper the wind had blown on the yard. Done quite voluntarily—without the usual grumbling that accompanied policing in the Army. All in the name of order. I wonder if they still do it in the Army—the same way we used to do it. Is it a fit activity for “warriors”? We were just soldiers in my day—with every fit male subject to service. In what now seems ancient times, soldiers were called even more carelessly GIs, an acronym for “general issue.” Not bad for people who won a world war. Back then you could herd them out there. These days that “policing” may well be hired out to companies, some even listed on the NY Stock exchange.
It looks a little better out there; and with Spring just four days away, it already feels like Spring, but the smell is not yet here.