Sunday, March 18, 2012

You Clean It, You Own It

Occupy Long Beach Beach Cleanup, Cherry Beach, Mar. 18, 2012

Report From the Field.  Today between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm about ten of us showed up at Cherry Beach for another in a series of trash harvests sponsored by Occupy Long Beach.  Actually, for me, this was my first official beach cleanup, ever.  I was fired up.  And a good thing, too.  In the wake of yesterday’s rainstorm, the National Weather Service issued a high wind advisory with gusts up to 32 mph.  So I layered up the clothing and drove (You what???) there.

Inge and Betzi met me there with official, orange Beach Cleanup trash bags and hospital gloves to diminish the yuck-factor.  Normally, when I pick up trash, I avoid things that have made contact with mucus membranes, but this way I didn’t need to worry about that.  Also, Wayne had a bunch of those grabber sticks bought by Philip.  (Thank you Phil!)

The strong, gusts were coming from the West.  At Cherry Beach this meant that the air current was blowing down the coast, perpendicular to the direction that the waves move.  The wind is like a living force, moving things around according to its own patterns.  It had started its work much earlier in the morning, sweeping across the sand like an invisible broom.  We had to deal with it.  Most of the lightweight trash was gone, having been blown to sands eastward (and perhaps into the water as well).

The beach is large, a person is small.  Mostly, you work by yourself.  There are no rules, so you just make up your own strategy.  Some move quickly, looking for the big stuff.  Betzi had victory in this approach as she held up the rubber hot-water bottle that an anonymous tourist left for her.  I opted for the micro approach.  Step by step, I moved systematically around my marker (an unused grabber stick that I laid down) as I looked for small pieces the wind had missed.

There are a lot of little white pieces on the sand.  You pick one up.  It is a small piece of Styrofoam.  You wrestle with your plastic bag as it dances wildly.  Finally you succeed in depositing the little piece.  Another little white piece.  It is a broken piece of seashell.  Put it back.

The colored plastic is easier to spot.  Isn’t it wonderful that consumers respond so well to color in their plastic products?  Certainly makes our work easier.  Then again, as my new buddy Eric pointed out, color is attractive to birds, too, and so many of these little bits end up in their gullets.

At the end of our two-hour cleanup we had a nice pile of orange trash bags filled with human rubbish.  Wayne took a photo of us standing proudly over our catch.  Before we departed I asked for people’s impressions.  Betzi expressed amazement at all the Styrofoam that you find out there.  Someone mentioned the idea of a legislative ban on plastics at the beach.  (Currently, only people’s pets are forbidden, as I found out when a beach official blared on a loudspeaker that some party could not bring their dog to the beach.)  Wayne expressed frustration that people will not take the time to walk thirty seconds out of their way to put their trash in a trash can.

Afterthoughts.  When I was a kid I remember seeing these old guys with their metal detectors searching for hidden treasure beneath the sand.  Do they still do that?  I don’t know, except I expect that mostly what you find on today’s beaches is the throwaway junk from our society’s disposable culture.  Julia Butterfly Hill asks, “Where is away?”, and answers, “There is no away.”  The idea that we “throw away our trash” is quickly losing meaning in a world filled to the gills with human beings and their stuff.

At the start of today’s activity, Inge wondered out loud (with perhaps a twinge of anger) WHY SO MANY people are so careless about their trash.  I answered that we could respond from the Buddhist context of compassion.  Maybe there is not so much that separates us from them except that if we are patient rather than angry we can slowly wake them up.  Later, on my solitary search in the sand, I reconsidered the idea.  Folly, folly is it to want to awaken another.  It is I who must awaken.  The world waits for me to deepen my sense of awareness of my place in the great scheme.  And from that, change will happen.


  1. Thanks for cleaning up the beach in such bad weather. The birds and other wildlife are grateful! It was nice to meet you! Inge

  2. I came home to find my ears.... full of sand!!! Beach clean up reminds me of being a child on a treasure hunt!! Several pieces a mystery... where did that hot water bottle come from? Has it been adrift in the sea from some far away land? A lone sock... some one surely took their shoes and socks off to dip their feet in the water or to feel the sand in their toes, but somehow that sock got left behind!! Poor sock.

  3. Regarding socks: you won't believe the one that got Away!

    I rolled up my jeans. When I got home, baby sand pile on my bedroom floor.