Monday, September 26, 2011

Collection Report Sep 3, 2011

Well, Irene came and went. On Sunday, August 28, cutting more westerly than expected, she hit Saco Bay, Maine with her east flank. 40-50mph winds rocked the coastline all day. But the worst & last of her winds came from W/SW. From inland out to sea. Here's her waning power on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 28:
Scour (Aug. 28, 2011, 6:30PM)
And here's Bay View the next morning, after the midnight high tide had come and gone:
And rinse (Aug. 29, 2011, 8:30AM)
And there you go. Hurricane/TS Irene ruined communities up and down the east coast. But at Bay View, all she left was an utterly clean slate. Not even a dollop of seaweed. All thanks to wind direction (and maybe to the long Saco River jetty a mile down south).

The rest of the week was warm & sunny. The perfect ending to an epic Maine summer. So it's little surprise that when I got back on September 3, there was junk. Though taking away this still-smouldering Bacchanal...

Poor showing
...the haul would have been small. (Note to partiers: Dumping your plastic in an open-air bonfire doesn't make it go away. Pretty much everything you did here reflects badly on you.) As it was, the haul wasn't small. Zone N:
146 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 36
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (rope scrap, buoy scrap)
  • Food-related plastics: 22 (4 cups, 5 food wrappers, 4 straw wrappers, 2 cup lids, 3 bottlecaps, 2 bottles, straw, gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 19 (14 cans, Jaegermeister bottle, beer bottle, 2 bottlecaps, foil wrapper)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 19 (5 bags/scraps, 1 bottlecap, 4 toy scraps, 5 scraps >1", 4 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 35 (34 filters, 1 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 10 (9 paper scraps, 1 wood firecracker stick)
  • Misc./unique: 3 (2 fabric pieces, battery)
After all of Irene's fury, Bay View Zone N got maybe 2-3 pieces of ocean-borne debris. A bit of rope, a buoy scrap, and maybe this stained, abraded bottle cap:
The stories you could tell...
On the other hand, Irene probably blew away 40-50 cigarette butts (edit: 40-50 from Zone N; probably hundreds from the rest of Bay View), and who knows what else?

Zone S, always low on litter this year, offers little more enlightenment:
28 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 19 (!)
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (rope twine)
  • Food-related plastics: 2 (scrap of spoon/fork, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 2 (1 scrap >1", 1 scrap <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 4
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
The only thing of note: the spike in styrofoam over the usual Zone S finds.

A day after the storm, I watched a video of a 140-year-old covered bridge in Vermont washing away into splinters from the raging torrents. That was Irene's reality for so many of my fellow Northeasterners. At Bay View beach, ~20 pieces of styrofoam may well be the best -- the only -- evidence for Irene. With that, and the removal of one wonky tree along the 3-mile route between my condo and the beach, she was well and truly gone from Saco, Maine. We got lucky. My heart goes out to those who didn't.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Waning Days of Summer

A Maine summer passes so quickly. Below is a little snapshot of mornings on Bay View beach from the past few weeks. If "The Flotsam Diaries" tends to focus on the ugly, it's with the hope of recognizing & preserving the beauty.
Before the crowds - August 19, 7:00AM
Pipers' return - August 27
A memory - August 27 
Irene's last gasp - August 28
Of ripples and rivulets - September 3
Worlds collide - September 13
Tiger maple - September 13
Backlight - September 18
Bonfire's end - September 18
It's a good place, and it was a good summer.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Collection Report Aug 27, 2011

On Saturday, August 27 the first tendrils of Hurricane Irene were lashing North Carolina's Outer Banks. The storm would later barrel up the eastern seaboard, destroying more by water than by wind. Communities from Virginia to Vermont will be recovering from her for years.

Coastal Maine was to be spared, blessedly, when the storm rolled through Sunday evening. But at 6:45 Saturday morning, with heavy fog and heavier air, I couldn't know that. I went out to scour the beach, before Irene did it for me.
Something wicked this way comes
For all the storm-of-a-lifetime expectancy, this collection was a typical summer haul. The usual trappings of beachgoer fun (plus the unpleasant remnants of a late-night liaison). And, of course, one of these thrown in:
Every week, a distant world peeks in
In the interest of brevity & actually getting this collection report posted, on to the finds. Zone N:
208 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 9
  • Fishing misc.: 10 (2 rope, 3 claw bands, trap tag, tiny buoy scrap, 3 rope twine)
  • Food-related plastics: 30 (bottle, 8 bottlecaps, 5 food wrappers, 7 straw wrappers, 2 forks, silverware scrap, 2 straws, 3 gum, bread tag)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 13 (glass bottle, 2 bottlecaps, 7 foil wrappers, pull tab, 2 sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 29 (5 plastic bags, firecracker, 2 pieces tape, rubberband, hairclip, 3 toys, 2 bandaids, condom & wrapper, tampon, 4 scraps >1", 7 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 85 (84 filters, 1 cigar wrapper)
  • Wood/paper: 22 (18 paper scraps, 4 wood firecracker sticks)
  • Misc./unique: 10 (4 flipflops, 1 sock, 3 scraps fabric, saw blade, rusted scrap)
A thoroughly summer beach collection, with a couple hints of lobstering thrown into the mix. Still, as always a pretty fascinating slice of life. The 29 objects below tell an awful lot about a summer day (and night) on a Maine beach.
Summer in Maine
What stories does your shore tell?

Sadly, I either misplaced or erased the picture of lightly-traveled Zone S.

* thoroughly unimpressive *
* picture missing here *

21 finds:
Building materials: 0
Foam/Styrofoam: 3
Fishing misc.: 3 (2 rope, 1 rope twine)
Food-related plastics: 3 (2 bottlecaps, straw)
Food-related metal/glass: 1 (bottlecap)
Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (bag scrap, 2 scraps <1")
Cigarette filters/plastics: 6 (filters)
Wood/paper: 2 (paper scrap, wood firecracker stick)
Misc./unique: 0

Fortunately, there really was nothing to see. Again, an almost pristine swath just a short stroll down from a well-polluted one.

So ended my day. The rest of the weekend was spent inside, watching news reports, or watching the trees blow & bend sideways. What did Irene leave in its wake? That'll have to wait til the next collection report.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Long View

We think of the passage of time in a very, well, human way. (How could we not?) A day ago--  pretty recent. A year ago-- less so. A hundred years-- a dim echo of grainy filmclips and sepia portraits. A millennium? Ancient history.

It's little surprise if we bring this same view to the beach. Our grasp on time is framed by the Victorian house overlooking the dunes, the rotted pilings from some forgotten pier.

Yet, in reality, we're standing on one page of a story that stretches back, and back, and back to the uttermost past. Literally. The sand that makes up Bay View beach, Saco, Maine began life about 600 million years ago. This is a brief story of one grain of that sand.

600 million years ago, North America was a different place, a young continent named Laurentia (or the non-poetic "North American Craton").
I bet coastal Kentucky was lovely
Where's Maine? It didn't exist yet! Since the world was young, land masses have been born, eroded away, crashed together, rifted apart. Many times. The sturdy roots of North America have been here for a billion years or more. But Maine is a relative late-comer.

600 million years ago, a grain of quartz eroded out of the exposed face of a vanished granite hillside, and was washed downward by a vanished river. When it finally reached the Iapetus Ocean (the precursor to our modern Atlantic), it settled down to the sea-floor and was buried by other sediment. There it lay for millions of years, buried & compacted, becoming chemically attached to other grains around it, forming a sandstone.

By 500 million years ago other lands were converging on Laurentia. The Iapetus Ocean was shrinking & dying, succumbing to plate tectonics forcing continents together. 450 million years ago, volcanic islands off Laurentia's east coast were squeezed back onto the coast, an event called the Taconic orogeny. Our little grain of sand was swept up in the fury, as the stone it lay in bent, buckled, and shot upward out from under the disappearing sea. Over the next 200 million years, more and more islands, mini-continents, and even supercontinents crashed into Laurentia, crushing the old offshore sandstones & mudstones together. This was the birth of the Appalachian Mountains, and the birth of Maine as an above-ground landmass.

By 250 million years ago, all the continents of the world were welded together into one land, Pangea.
Know how Africa & S. America look like
jigsaw puzzle pieces? There's a reason!
The young Appalachian mountain range probably towered 5 miles into the sky, as high as the modern Himalayas! Maine was a land-locked metamorphic mass-- the farthest thing from coastal. Our grain of sand now lay in a metamorphosed stone known as quartzite. Though it was now a mile up, it was still buried by layers of hardened lava from volcanic eruptions.

Slowly, over millions of years this overburden eroded away, running down other vanished rivers. Where did all that sediment go? Into the newly born Atlantic Ocean! ~200 million years ago, the forces that pulled the continents together now ripped them apart. North America broke free from Europe & Africa, and the Atlantic was born. Our tiny grain of sand now lay 150 miles away from Maine's brand-new coastline, still trapped high up in the towering Appalachians.

(The Atlantic Ocean is still widening today. Every year Maine gets about an inch further from Europe, thanks to the action of the mid-Atlantic Ridge.)
The Atlantic Ocean - work in progress
~50 million years ago, erosion finally exposed the quartzite rock holding our grain of sand. But quartzite is tough. It erodes, but only slowly. Our sand grain held out in its cozy home, as the weaker stone around it eroded away. Eventually it lay within a tall, weathered quartzite lump -- a last reminder of the majesty of the early Appalachians. But Mother Nature had another trick. 1.8 million years ago, the earth began entering a series of glaciations (misleadingly called "ice ages"). 20,000 years ago, glaciers reached their greatest extent, covering all of Maine in a wall of ice a mile high!

Glaciers aren't static, silent blocks of ice. With their terrible weight, they move, grind, torture, and pulverize the rocks beneath them. This last glacier rode up and over the denuded mountain holding our sand grain. And it ground it down. As it ate its way across the surface, it finally freed our grain of sand. It then moved the sand down and down, south & east. When the glacier finally receded 10,000 years ago, it left the sand grain on lowlands 50 miles west of the coast in a mass of clay, boulders, and debris a tenth of a mile deep.

Since then, the Saco River has been slowly eroding away the banks of all this debris, washing it down to the Gulf of Maine. Eventually -- maybe 5000 years ago, maybe last year -- the grain of sand fell out of the eroded rubble bank, plunged into the Saco River, and rolled & bounced its way the last 50 miles to the ocean. The ocean then churned & tossed it up onto Bay View beach. Where I scooped it up in my hand last week. Along with 10,000 other grains that all have their own tale to tell.

The world is an incredible, beautiful, and wondrous place. It would be nice if we kept it that way.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Distant Early Warning

One of the joys of picking up junk at the beach every week is stumbling on a good mystery. This summer, an intriguing one has been unfolding, week after week.

For months --  late winter and most of spring -- any lobster claw bands that trickled in looked like this:
From March 31. Blech.
Grotty, torn, a mess. Then, suddenly, June 2 rolls around. And so do these:
Fresh & springy 
Except for the one in the back right, all brand new. Beautiful. And from Canada. The next week, June 7, another one:
Another Canadian band 
I took the next week off, but on June 20 I found a big handful, the green & yellows almost certainly (two really certainly) Canadian:
Sensing a pattern...
And more have kept coming in.
June 23: 3 more, 2 Canadian/probably Canadian.
July 1: 4 more, 3 Canadian/probably.
July 7-9: 7 more, 6 Canadian/probably.
July 15, 5 more, all Canadian/probably:
July 15: Hello, my pretties
On and on, even now into September. In fact, since June 2, nearly every week has brought fresh, new, beige or green claw bands that are either stamped "Wild Canada" or are clearly the same make and likely Canadian.

Last year, from the first day of summer to the 1st week in September I found 17 claw bands. Maybe three were Canadian. This year during the same time I found 49. 42 to 44 of them are new, fresh, pristine, beige/green, and Canadian!

Some time in May, in the northern Gulf of Maine / Bay of Fundy, as lobstering in Canadian Zones 33-38 was winding down, an accident happened on a Canadian lobster boat. I don't know if it was a catastrophic accident, or just a box of claw bands getting knocked overboard. But what I'm finding here in Saco Bay is directly related to an event that happened 150-200 miles away. Its effects have rippled down the coast of Maine (and no doubt further south) ever since. Curious how much longer I'll be finding these.

We're all connected. For proof, just stroll the beach.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Collection Report Aug 19, 2011

Gotten behind on these again! Then again, if I'm being honest, I find summer collection reports, well, dull. Sure, there's a little that washes in. But there's so much local beachgoer garbage. Such a stark reminder of why it's such an uphill climb trying to restore & reclaim the pristine beauty of wild places.

Still, 7:15AM on Friday, August 19 was gorgeous, no two ways about it.
Rise and shine
And nothing was going to spoil the enjoyment of a nice walk in the early day. Not this:
Or this:
Instead, I took a little time to study the beauty, like the dune grass that is quickly reclaiming several feet of foreshore.
This was beach in 2010
Funny. Dune grass, like a piece of flotsam, has a story to tell. When it's been windy, the blades bend & drag through the sand, leaving concentric rings (like these from back in Oct 2010). When it's been calm, no rings. Even without Weather Underground, it doesn't take long to see that there's no sign of strong winds at the beach this week. (Remember, this is pre-Irene.)

So, not surprisingly, a busy, summery collection. Zone N:
198 finds:
  • Building materials: 3 (2 wood, 1 tile)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 11
  • Fishing misc.: 13 (5 rope, 4 claw bands, 3 rope twine, shotgun shell wadding)
  • Food-related plastics: 31 (12 food wrappers, 7 straw wrappers, 4 bottle caps, bottle, straw, fork scrap, bread tag, gum, milk cap ring, cap seal, fruit label) 
  • Food-related metal/glass: 11 (3 cans, glass bottle, 6 caps, foil food wrapper)
  • Nonfood/unknowng plastics: 36 (11 bags/scraps, 4 toys/scraps, 2 non-food caps, 2 strappings, 2 ribbon, footing, bandaid, 3 scraps >1", 10 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 71 (69 cigarettes, filter tip, Kodiak pack)
  • Paper/wood: 18 (12 paper scraps, chip, popsicle stick, firework, 3 firework sticks)
  • Misc./unique: 4 (2 string bits, 2 metal barrettes)
Except for a few left-behinds from the Sep '10 seaweed wash-in, this is a summer signature. Picked up another intact shovel for the collection, and a nice French-made barrette with turquoise stones. And this -very- salt-scarred steel bottlecap.
Help me!
On to Zone S:
22 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (brick)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 5
  • Fishing misc.: 2
  • Food-related plastics: 6 (2 bottle caps, 3 food wrappers, gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknowng plastics: 3 (firecracker, 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 5 (3 filters, 2 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Yawn. A 20-second walk from Zone N to Zone S. A completely different world.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Good Reads

I picked up my first bag of trash off the beach in March 2010. I wrote my first blog post in May 2010. It seems like a lifetime ago. I guess in some ways it is.

One thing that's kept the fire burning has been discovering other amazing people also fighting to change their world. Nonprofits and organizations, sure. But most heartening has been regular folks, bloggers, other people with their own lives to balance, who nevertheless take their time to do something that reaches beyond them.

It's impossible, in one post, to note all the people whose writings have touched me and kept me going. But I feel it's high time to try, at least a little bit. So, here goes:
  • The first person I "met" was Sara Bayles. She writes The Daily Ocean. What started as finding -- and hating -- trash on her Santa Monica beach recently became an epic South Pacific voyage studying plastic pollution up close. She's now back home, and her serialized travelogue -- as well as the ongoing saga of hundreds of lbs. of beach debris -- is a must-read.
  • Through Sara I discovered Danielle Richardet of It Starts with Me. She and her family pick trash -- and cigarette butts -- off Wrightsville Beach, NC. To date, she is nearinghas reached 30,000 cigarette butts. 30,000 pulled off one beach, by one family! A true inspiration, and always a great read.
  • Closer to my part of the world, I follow the lazy (and not so lazy) courses of countless rivers & streams in central and eastern Massachusetts with Suasco Al, The Trash Paddler. Every trip, Al carts off dozens of cups, bottles, wrappers, etc. that others have left behind in pristine wilderness. Tens of thousands of pieces over 4 years now. Read it for the trash, read it for the beautiful scenery & descriptions, just read it!
  • I recently discovered Ellen of The House Behind the Other Houses. Hailing from eastern Massachusetts, Ellen is constantly cleaning up "The Ugly Strip" in her neighborhood. But she does much more. She posts plastic-bag walls of shame; gardens & cooks some mouth-watering looking yummies; and brings life back to her asphalt jungle one small garden plot at a time. It's good stuff, and makes me smile to read it.
  • My world is the coast, and yet until too recently I never really stopped to look at it. Or to understand it. But I've learned to appreciate the way that wind, wave, and dune live and breathe. And I've been grateful for things Somerset Coast, across the "Pond," has been able to teach and show me. A wonderful blog for anybody interested in how coastlines form, change, erode, adapt. How they live.
  • Earth Korps is another new find for me. Their goal is "simple": to save & heal the 300-mile, polluted Shenandoah River that runs through Virginia and West Virginia. These folks will pull over half a ton of debris out of the river in one cleanup day! They don't mind getting dirty, they bust their backsides to make a difference, and their story deserves to be told & spread.
  • In the same vein is Chad Pregracke's Living Lands and Waters project. Less a blog than a way of life, Pregracke runs barges up and down the Mississippi River and major tributaries, pulling out countless tons of debris, which is floated on barges to salvage shops and dumps. It started as just one guy, hoping to make a difference. As just one example of the difference he's made, to date he and his crews have pulled over 55,000 tires from the waters.
  • A delightful and enigmatic blog, Catch What a Whale Shouldn't Have to Eat is updated almost daily by an anonymous blogger living somewhere in coastal North Shore Massachusetts. The breadth of what they find, the artistry in the images, and the desire to know more about this person and their work will keep you coming back.
  • Massachusetts has the Trash Paddler, Washington state has Garbage Scows. Another explorer committed to "taking only trash, leaving only swirls." And from the looks of it, they've got their job cut out for them.
  • I can't finish without a nod of appreciation to the Two Hands Project. Australia-based, but touching the world, the concept is simple: return the idea of global coastal cleanups to the awesome power of one person and their own two hands. They're most active on their FaceBook page. Check it out, thumb through the photos & the stories, and get inspired to do big things, two hands and a few minutes at a time.
There are more, many more that I read gladly. But these sites above are the ones that I go back to over & over because they inspire me. They make me want to pick up my trash bag and camera and do what I can. They remind me of the key truth: If there's something you love, if there's something you care about, you're not alone.