Saturday, December 31, 2011

Changing the Game: A Resolution or Three

Can't believe another year has come and gone. As something of a summary of all I've learned & studied over the past two years, I sent in an op-ed to Maine's largest newspaper, The Portland Press Herald this week. And it was published today! (Text below if the link isn't working.)

It's certainly been a strange road since picking up my first bag of beached garbage back in March 2010. But a good one.

For 2012, I have three resolutions:
  • Pick up more flotsam from Maine shores.
  • Learn more about how it's getting there and how to stop it.
  • Share more of what I learn.
#1 is already a given. I just got clearance from the National Fish & Wildlife Service to do weekly cleanups at a protected beach called Curtis Cove in Biddeford:

It's an utterly untouristed little gravelly crescent that's a major catch basin for tons of oceanic plastic garbage. In 2012, in addition to Bay View in Saco, I'm going to be collecting regularly at Curtis Cove, where all the junk I find will be seaborne -- not local drops by beachgoers. For someone looking to learn exactly what and how much is out there in the Gulf of Maine, it's hard to do better than this!

So with Resolution #1 settled, it's up to me to make #2 and #3 happen. And I intend to keep my promise.

From my family to yours, may I wish you all a peaceful, healthy, and very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Collection Report Dec 12, 2011

Monday, December 12. 1:42 PM, chilly & bright with a dazzling low sun, and a light breeze from the SW. A little more than an hour after high-tide -- if it could actually be called "high tide." The tideline was barely above the terrace, a sign of a remarkably feeble & low-energy week.
The weak waves preserved a slightly trampled message from the night before.
Ryan + Harry. Awwww...
A nice display of youthful enthusiasm, the perfect tonic to my first beach collection as a middle-aged 40-year-old! I wish good things to Ryan & her Harry.

As expected, cold skies & subdued tides brought in only the slightest flotsam. So why did one of the few pieces have to be another one of these?
Enough already!
Down to the numbers. Zone N:
28 finds:
  • Building materials: 6 (3 asphalt, brick, tile, fence slat)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 5
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (rope)
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (1 bottlecap o-ring, 2 food wrapper scraps)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (can scrap, sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 2 (tampon applicator, 1 scrap >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 7
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
It seems that November's beachings combined with December's weak waves have left Bay View with a little breathing room. More weeks like this would be nice!

On to Zone S:
6 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (2 scraps of lobster trap vinyl coating, claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 0
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Yes. More weeks like this would be nice.

I'm writing this on December 28, a couple weeks after the fact. Last night a major gale blew through southern Maine, knocking over a few smaller trees and toppling recycling bins & trash cans. I wonder what the beach looks like right now?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Collection Report Dec 5, 2011

With Christmas & Hannukah festivities now fading into the past, it's time to play catch-up with these collection reports. So, Monday, December 5. 12:15, low tide, light breeze, & a glimmering terrace as the sun peeked through partly cloudy skies.
A fairly low-energy week judging by the lack of wrack. But, this was the week where the personal became the very public.
Happy news? Or sad?
Don't. Flush. Plastics.
My first hypodermic; needle intact
I'd be just as glad to go another year & a half until the next hypodermic. This one clearly came from the sea -- it was faded, cracked, abraded. One wonders what its story was -- a hospital, home health care, back alley? One shouldn't need safety gloves to dig in the sand.

Anyway, on to Zone N:
74 finds:
  • Building materials: 7 (6 asphalt, 1 roof tile)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 14
  • Fishing misc.: 7 (5 rope scraps, vinyl trap coating scrap, claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (food wrapper, straw wrapper, silverware scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 6 (aluminum can, glass bottle, 4 sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 6 (tampon applicator, hypodermic, pregnancy test, bandaid, 1 scrap >1", 1 scrap <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 25 (23 filters, 2 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 3 (2 food wrappers, scrap)
  • Misc./unique: 3 (iron fence hook, 2 flip-flops)
Many of the cigarettes were old and had been kicked around for months (or years?). They collect up in the little nook by the access point where a large drift-log makes a shelter from the wind.

The personal care products are troubling. Not least of which because at least the needle & applicator could have come from anywhere from Halifax, Nova Scotia down to Boston. Or even farther south. How do you stop it if you can't tell where it started? It's everybody's problem... which I guess means anybody, anywhere could start being the solution, right?

Zone S:
24 finds:
  • Building materials: 6 (5 asphalt, 1 brick)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 2
  • Fishing misc.: 5 (rope scrap, 3 vinyl trap coatings, claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (wrapper scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 4 (balloon string, 1 scrap >1", 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 3
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 2 (fabric pieces)
Take away the asphalt chunks and cigarettes, and this was a light week. Number-wise. I refuse to call finding a used tampon applicator and a sharp syringe "a good day." Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Collection Report Nov 28, 2011

Monday, November 28. 10:00AM. Bay View beach, Saco, Maine. Temp in the 50s. Overcast with occasional sun. Like, well, this:
A weird day. The kind of day where the sea has left behind rock gardens:
The purses of mermaids:
The homes of tubeworms:
As well as two horses and a rider with a fuzzy hat??
Then, of course, the usual:
So, what came out of the sand, all told? Zone N:
134 finds:
  • Building materials: 4 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 62 (!!)
  • Fishing misc.: 5 (2 shotgun shells, claw band, 2 bits of fishing line)
  • Food-related plastics: 8 (3 bottle-cap o-rings, 3 food wrappers/scraps, 2 gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 5 (bottle cap, 2 foil wrappers, 2 sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 17 (o-ring, plastic hairband, plastic glove, bandaid, 2 wall anchors, kids shirt tag, rubberband, 2 scraps >1", 7 scraps < 1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 32
  • Paper/wood: 1 (wood firecracker stick)
  • Misc./unique: 0
This was the week for foam! See the riot of deadly color:
What I discovered this week is that the little protected corner near the access point is a real collection spot. There's an old log there, and the windward side amasses all kinds of seaweed, reeds, leaves, and plastic -- mostly light stuff like cigarette butts &, well, styrofoam. And now on to Zone S:
22 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 3
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (1 rope scrap - natural fiber, 2 vinyl coating)
  • Food-related plastics: 2 (bottle, pepper packet)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 9 (baggie, strapping, folding step!, 6 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 2
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
This, obviously, is the most interesting find:
Not least because I had no idea what it was, until a quick FaceBook "crowdsourcing." Flotsam Diaries fan Irene Parsons knew right away: the top of a folding step-stool! How it got to Bay View, with oceanic algae attached, I'll never really know.

My big takeaway for the week: If you don't know, ask. There's probably someone who does!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hope, Despair, and that Strange Place In-Between

People ask me, as I explain my passion, "What hope do you have to change things?" I tell them the truth. I have little. The problem is vast, the politicians are feckless, corporate interests are rich & entrenched. And the 100% predictable result has already happened.
Tromsø, Norway; 200 miles north of
the Arctic Circle (photo: Bo Eide*)
So. Hope? No. Not really.

Then why keep picking litter off the beach, writing stories, trying? Because there's a difference between losing hope and giving in to despair. Despair is paralysis. Despair is also extremely arrogant -- it presumes that we can know with certainty that our actions are useless. Despair is Denethor, throwing himself onto a pyre rather than face a future that to him can only be black & bleak.

I'd rather cast in my lot with Theoden, riding headlong into overwhelming odds because it's simply the right thing to do.

That sounds like bluster. But, in truth, it's the opposite. It's deep humility. For all that I think I know, and think I've learned, I don't know how the story ends. So I do what I do because I love my daughter and I think the world is beautiful and I want to preserve it. It's my path.

And there is a strange freedom & clarity that comes from leaving both hope & despair behind. It's re-energizing. "Hoping" puts the burden on someone else. "Doing" puts the burden -- the control -- in my own hands. So no, I can't change the world. But I can change my part of it. And no, I can't make it better forever. But I can make it better for today. This one moment when the beach is deserted and the gulls are crying and the surf is pounding and the breeze is carrying salt on the air... and the sand is clean.

And it just might stay clean long enough for the next lonely wanderer to look down. And notice.

Sometimes, the point isn't to do the right thing because you hope or think something awesome will come from it. It's because, it's the right thing. And because "even the wise cannot see all ends." As I've witnessed, the actions of one person have a funny way of reaching beyond them in ways & times most unexpected.

I have ideas, plans, contacts, and goals for 2012. I'm going to expand my work, meet new people, do what I can, and increase what I can do. Not because I have hope, but because I don't despair.

* For more images in and around Tromsø, please check out Bo Eide's fabulous blog: Life Up North; this image (saved originally from Facebook) comes from this post:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Working Together, Apart

I was recently talking with another Mainer who lives a bit further south than I. She also picks up garbage on her beach. On her way back home one morning, she drove by a man wandering down the country lane. He too was picking up litter along the roadside. That roadside's gullies drain to the ocean & her beach. His time & work meant less garbage for her to pick up "downstream," and more time to enjoy the beauty of the place.

The tragedy is, there are no pristine coasts left in the world. Man-made debris has reached every corner. 80% of it is plastic, so it will be there beyond all of our lifetimes. But once in a while, you may still stumble upon a scene that looked like it once did. "In the quiet of the world," as my hero Tolkien would have put it. It's not because that place has escaped the indignities we've dumped on it. It's because somebody else has been there before you, and taken their time to make it better. Even if just for a while.

I was touched by the story of the beach and the road. The idea that a kindness done may trickle down & reach someone beyond your thought. It put in mind a work by another of my literary heroes, Robert Frost. His "The Tuft of Flowers" brings the point beautifully home. I reproduce it here in full, borrowing the wording from the Web site "Representative Poetry Online."

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,--alone,

`As all must be,' I said within my heart,
`Whether they work together or apart.'

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a 'wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

`Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
`Whether they work together or apart.'

Never think any of your actions are in vain. You may not even have the faintest idea whose world you're making better in doing them.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Collection Report Nov 21, 2011

Bay View beach, Saco, Maine. Monday, November 21, 1:15PM. Low-tide, chilly & windy.
A bright day, a quiet week, an absolutely deserted beach. On Thanksgiving, I wrote the prelude to this report. After a summer filled with the usual thoughtlessness, and a late October/early November filled with much sea-borne junk, a day like this is just what this Flotsam Diarist needed.

A very quick report here. Zone N:
21 finds:
  • Building materials: 2 (1 asphalt chunk, 1 brick scrap)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 2
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (rope)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (foil wrapper)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (bag scrap, 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 12
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Lose the ubiquitous plastic poison packets known as cigarette butts, and this is just remarkable.

Zone S:
6 finds:
  • Building materials: 2 (asphalt chunks)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 1 (scrap >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Even more remarkable.

Takeaway? A simple one: This was a good day.

Collection Report Nov 14, 2011

Finding myself playing catchup again with older collection reports. So, Monday, Nov. 14, 9:00AM. Sunny, calm, pleasant. Much like the whole week.
One of the week's high tides had pushed Nov. 7's wrack line up toward the dune. But it left little in its wake. As it turned out, my morning stroll was so quick -- and dull -- I only took two other pictures. Sadly, a blurry seagull and a burnt log aren't exactly blog-worthy.

So without further ado, straight into the numbers. Zone N:
48 finds:
  • Building materials: 12 (7 asphalt, 3 brick, 1 tile, 1 fence slat)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 6
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (2 rope scraps, lobster claw band, tiny buoy scrap)
  • Food-related plastics: 5 (2 straws, 2 wrappers, bottlecap safety seal)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (can scrap, bottlecap)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 1 (rubberband)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 14
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 4 (fabric scrap, 3 wax candles)
Take away the rubble and the cigarettes, and this was a light, light day.

Zone S:
36 finds:
  • Building materials: 8 (7 asphalt, 1 brick)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 7
  • Fishing misc.: 8 (4 rope bits, vinyl trap coating scrap, 3 claw bands)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (chewing gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 5 (hairclip, nonfood bottlecap, 3 scraps >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 7
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
And again, very quiet.

The lesson I take from this week is one I learned back in early spring. After the ocean purges, it actually does get briefly cleaner. The massive purges of Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 seem to have given Bay View a little respite now. How long will/did it last? Keep reading.