I have declared a war on styrofoam. Or at least a small portion of it.
See, as part of my ongoing efforts to walk my spiritual talk, I’ve adopted a stretch of the Columbia River through the Adopt-a-River Program. It’s a half mile stretch of beach along the east side of Sauvie Island, and it gets a fair amount of use from fishers and people walking their dogs, among others. Unfortunately, not everyone obeys the “pick up yer damned garbage or you get a $500 fine!*” sign in the parking lot. This includes the river, which carries all sorts of refuse from the city and tosses it up on the shore. So between the Columbia’s cache of Portland trash, and human visitors’ inability to pack out their carryout containers and baggies of dog poo, the beach was in sore need of cleaning when I went to visit it last Thursday.
By the time I was done I dragged out two full 13 gallon kitchen trash bags, along with a chunk of styrofoam longer than my arm. (I was proud of that piece, though–I had to chase it down the river twice to finally fish it out for good!) In the bags there were plastic forks and fishing line. beer cans and soda bottles, countless cigarette butts, and lots and lots of tiny chunks of styrofoam. Some were from takeout containers or foam coffee cups, but most were from various floatation devices for docks, buoys, and other aquatic equipment. There was so much I couldn’t get all of it before it began to get too dark to see, and I intend to go back later this week to try to sift through the sand for more styrofoam and cigarette butts. At least I managed to keep what I collected from going into the ocean or being eaten by wildlife thinking it’s food. Still, if you want to make my life (and those of other cleanup volunteers) a little easier, make sure you throw away your butts, and consider taking Tupperware on a blind date with your leftovers when you go out for supper.
Of course, it wasn’t all stooping over to pick up plastics and biohazards. I spent the first part of my visit wandering along the beach, taking in the sights and sounds and smells and textures. (The blackberries were long gone, so no tasting this time.) Part of my commitment to the adoption program is a quarterly report on the flora, fauna, and general state of the riparian habitat. For being so close to human habitation, this was a busy place! I saw no fewer than ten hawks, or maybe the same pair flying over again and again, though some were red-tail and at least two looked like rough-legged. There were Downy woodpeckers and a Northern flicker, mourning doves and cormorants, gulls and juncos, little clams in the sand, and a Great Horned owl sleeping high in a tree. Speaking of trees, the landscape was covered in black poplar trees, and while the underbrush was predictably choked with invasive Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry, a few snowberry and Nootka rose bushes managed to make an appearance.
And then there was the river, the great Columbia. It’s like the Pacific Ocean–almost too big to talk to, preoccupied with the goings-on of countless beings within it and on its surface, communicating with all its tributaries and estuaries, personality and spirit shifting mile after mile, flowing like its water. For all that I love the Gorge and other areas along the Columbia, I tend to connect with the land forms more than the river itself. Not because I can’t or don’t want to, but because the Columbia is such a vast presence, and most of it is the alien world of “underwater”. No wonder it’s the gateway to the Underworld when I journey: dark mysteries and people barely skimming the surface unawares fit the river well.
The parameters on land are more familiar. I have a clearer idea of the spirit of the land I’m working with here. While the beach and I aren’t best buddies just yet–we’ve only met today, you know–its boundaries and spirit were much easier to connect with. It appreciated the trash removal, and I appreciated the abundant wildlife sightings. While I connect with the places I hike, and I do some trash pickup there, I’m looking forward to being a more dedicated caretaker of a particular place and seeing where that takes us both. In addition to my present duties, I’m also on the list to be trained in water quality monitoring this spring, especially important since my beach is downstream from Portland itself. And who knows? Maybe I can get permission to take a shovel to some of those blackberries, too. It’s all got to start with the periodic pickup, though.
Which brings me back to the *%^$#$%&#ing styrofoam. And all the rest of the trash. I know a half mile of beach along a river that’s over 1,200 miles long isn’t much, and the amount of stuff I haul away from there is miniscule in comparison to what gets dumped, dropped, and washed into there on a daily basis. But I’ve declared a one-person war on this buildup of refuse. It’s so on.
* Not the exact wording, but the sentiment is similar.