In April 2007, my wife gave birth to a beautiful, perfect baby girl.
We were in our mid-30s. Happy, unattached, travelers. We enjoyed life, we looked forward to our future. Down inside, I think we had come to expect that when we ended, the future ended. For all we cared or knew.
Then our daughter arrived, and I knew what fathers have known for ... ever. The future would go on. Our girl would inherit it. Her eyes would see things that mine never would; yet her heirs, and theirs, would be part of a story that I had read, and shaped, and written. It was the dawning of a father's knowledge, that he has to change the world for his little girl.
Fast-forward to March 2010. The first warm day at the tail end of a Maine winter, and a quick family trip to the beach. Ocean Park, one of the most lovely sandy shores in Maine. Yet the end of February had seen violent storms, and they had left their mark. Clam shells and great heaps of kelp lined the highwater mark.
And with it, the detritus of mankind -- rope, a glove, a broken plastic spoon, fishing line, a torn beer can, its sharp edges poking up through the soft sand. And lobster traps, ripped from the deeps and dragged for miles, to be half-buried on the beach.
I'd seen the news about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The plastics that don't break down, that swirl in giant eddys & gyres in distant waters. The litter and debris that travels for thousands of miles, fouling pristine waters, washing up on pristine beaches. But this wasn't the Pacific. This was my beach, ten minutes from home. The more I looked, the more I saw. Part of a red plastic cup, more nylon rope, bright rubber bands. It was everywhere.
The next day, I came back to the beach, trash bag in hand. And I picked. Two blocks, a leisurely half-hour stroll, and the bag was full.
I had barely scratched the surface. Yet I was carrying several pounds of rope, dozens of jagged pieces of aluminum can, shotgun shells, shreds of lobster traps, most of a pair of sunglasses, several plastic forks, a dozen beach umbrella bottoms, rubber tubing, architectural fragments, and 132 brightly colored rubber bands.
I didn't know what I wanted to do with it. I didn't know if there was anything I could do with it. But I knew I was at the beginning of something, and that this wasn't a bag just to be thrown in the dumpster and forgotten. Because this wasn't just my beach. This was my daughter's. And so I resolved to change the world. Somehow.