Copyright Maria V. Eyles 2014 July 01, 2014
No Fun Sunday
The Pismo Beach Car Show is dismantling its tents and concessions at 6:30 Sunday evening. The bulging attraction, held yearly near Father’s Day, makes Coney Island in July seem bare and spacious. But the Pismo tourists and fair-goers, just two hours ago shoulder-to-shoulder, now trickle out singly, squalling children in tow.
Back near the Addie street lot, Raphael and I are the sole bodies to show up for my SOS Beach Clean-Up. Not a surprise, I sigh lightly. Like a friend quipped over his Starbucks latte, “Who would want to go do that, when they could stay here with friends, or go home and watch The Amazing Race, or otherwise have fun?”
Raffy and I descend the stairs behind the old Pierside, a 5-6 block walk on the boardwalk from where we parked. Sinking into the sand up to our ankles, our steps spew chutes of sand up our legs as we walk. The sand’s too talc-like to leave footprints: no proof of our presence here. No one caring about it either.
But we do. Some oddball things are fun for us OCD people, like cleaning up messes even if they get your back sore and your ire up.
If nothing else, the theater for this event is unsurpassed in beauty, yea even by whatever they want to show you digitally on an Amazing Race rerun. Here is living joy in color, light, sound, feel and smell...the lowering sun, highlighting the magical contours of beach and ocean, as if with a Waterman fountain pen. The cobalt breakers foaming rapturously ashore. The sea breeze cooling the skin and playing with one’s hair. The briny, vaguely shell-fishy scent. The mosaics of seaweed clumps resembling vegetables—carrots, onions, and kale. As your foot steps on the sea carrots, they explode with a satisfying pop. And, as a bonus, most of the tourists have left the beach.
Of course, there is the diabolical side of the heavenly theater: the inevitable debris from “having fun” the American way: “Drop it on the ground and let someone else clean it up! After all, they pay someone to do that, don’t they?”
No, my friends. Ocean and beach clean-up depends not only on volunteers, or members of great organizations like Surfrider Foundation and Greenpeace, but upon every single living person who is not seriously disabled. As someone wisely said, no matter where you are on earth, you are still near an estuary to the ocean, where all the trash ends up.
Looking around, I’m feeling like the movie theater cleaning “crew” going down the rows after the main feature has ended. Plastic trash bags, doggy bags, and protective gloves flap out of my every pocket (though I am lacking a broom and dust pan). My hands fumble with dog leash, dog and trash picker. Like the movie usher, I even carry a flashlight in my pocket for when the light fades and everyone else has gone home.
As the breeze buffets my trash bag, I fill up most of it before I reach the strand: plastic bottles, bottle caps, plastic cups, plastic bags, spoons, and forks; Styrofoam plates and cups pecked into art by the seagulls, so all the tiny pieces, too; toys, pails, shovels, and sharp plastic shards of same; baby diapers (yeeew!); beer bottles, soda cans and straws; kites, netting, string, balloons, chapsticks, wipes, shoes, socks. Add a zillion cigarette butts which I have no time to remove while I’m alone.
By the time I reach the waterline, the tide is rambling in. I take out a second bag and decide to concentrate right there on the waterline. I’m dismayed at how many plastic bottles are already floating out to sea; how many plastic bags are already half buried under wet sand; how many plastic straws and bottle caps are already intertwined in the wet sea plants as if a part of nature now.
It’s getting later and I have to concentrate, so I let Raphael off the leash. He’s been on his best behavior, demonstrating his training by helping me or staying out of the way. Ecstatic to run free, he chases the gulls making his kangaroo-like hops. He checks into rest stops formed by abandoned sand castles where he seems to daydream. Yet he prances gracefully out of the way of the incoming waves hurtling toward us, ready to drench everything in their path.
Yes, who would want to come out and do this on a Sunday evening? Some kind of no-fun nutcase, I guess. What compels me to come out here? It is not anger; I could never do this in an angry spirit. It is the thought of those one million sea animals who die annually from ingesting plastic, of which our oceans are inundated. It’s the thought of a bottle cap going down the throat of an adorable baby seal, or seagull, or otter, or even some ugly fish, and strangling him. This thought keeps me awake at night. This thought also makes my job more painstaking because I try to pick up every tiny straw and bottle cap, even those half buried or hidden in the seaweed.
As I do this—concentrate on removing as much plastic as I can—my mind slowly stops grinding with worry over my own life and problems. I stop mentally berating the Pismo beachgoers for being slobs with no conscience. All annoyance ceases, and suddenly I gain a focus of attention, a spiritual awareness. With just myself, my dog, my picker, and this plastic, a new resonance invades me and I feel connected to all beings and all things.
And with that connection comes a flowering sense of gratitude. I fantasize that maybe, just maybe, I might be helping the beautiful ocean and the mysterious life it enfolds. Like me, it may live one more day. The feeling of serving and caring—whether it is true or not— sometimes allows this force field of peace to descend on me, that rare, loving peace that is not of this world.
Wet, dirty, sore, and alone but for Raphael, I slog back up the sand—much slower this time— dragging a heavy trash bag, two pails and the dog leash. The fog is rolling in with the twilight and the Technicolor beauty of a half hour ago has turned to black and white.
Unloading the trash, and re-leashing Raphael, I turn back and look at the Pacific Ocean. Its vehement beauty is undimmed by nightfall; I am overwhelmed by the gift of it.
Again, there are no footprints showing we had been on the beach, but a smile deep in my heart tells me there would have been three sets of footprints, not two.
And now: How glad I am to report to you that I had no fun on Sunday night.
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