Yesterday was another cleanup day at Sauvie Island; as much time as I’ve been spending out in the Gorge, I love my little close-in stretch of the Columbia, too. I especially appreciated its convenience since today was a low-energy day, since I didn’t sleep so well as I might have liked last night. Still, I wanted the opportunity to get outside today, and the beach was due for a cleaning.
So it’s getting warmer, and more people are going to be showing up to fish, and also to party. Unfortunately, some of these people will be irresponsible enough to do things like smash glass bottles in the middle of the road and leave their garbage strewn across the sand. I tend to ready myself for anything any time I go out for cleanup. However, when I got there today, there was a woman walking across the parking lot with a paper grocery bag full of aluminum cans. She had taken the time to pick them all up out of the trees lining the beach. We chatted a moment, and I thanked her and went on my way. It’s always nice to see I’m not the only person cleaning up, and it did perk up my mood.Of course, having someone else get most of the big, noticeable stuff meant that my afternoon was mostly spent with the little, fiddly things like cigarette butts and tiny pieces of plastic. So it was a slow progression down the beach with my trash bag and kitty litter scoop, sifting stuff out of the sand. I picked up enough cigarette refuse, in fact, that I’ve joined TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Brigade; I don’t smoke myself, but I figure if I can get a few more filters and the like out of the landfill, so much the better. It can get disheartening to come back every time and have the beach look just as bad as before, since I can’t be there every day, and there are a LOT of people leaving trash around. But when such thoughts begin to bring me down, I remind myself of the Starfish Story*; trash pickup isn’t as romantic as saving starfish, but the concept is the same: I can’t get to them all, but it matters to this one. And the next. And the next.
While the day was a bit cooler than it’s been, and overcast, the birds were still out in force. I saw a pair of bald eagles, robins, and an osprey, among others, and I could hear the alarm call of a Northern flicker and the song of a winter wren off in the trees. There were even fish jumping out of the river, though I was surprised there was no one fishing today. Amid the twigs and other refuse kicked up onto the beach by the river, I saw white-lined sphinx moth in its last moments, perhaps dying after having mated. I left it where it lay, and a few minutes later a large ship passing by kicked up the biggest wake I’ve seen yet at the beach. When I walked back a little later, the moth was gone, no doubt washed into the water to become food for a passing fish.
Speaking of the water, as I sat and rested at one point, I listened to the river splashing up against the bank of wet sand. I thought about how much quieter it would be here without the traffic on the ocean, and I-5 not too far away, and the planes overhead, and the various vehicles driving on the access road. I thought of how before all that noise, that splashing water might be one of the loudest things there if one were to sit and listen. And I reflected on how the sound of water on land is one of the very oldest sounds in the world, and wondered whether Mars, or any other planet, had had that sound as well.It’s thoughts like that that make the work so much more worth it. Yes, it’s good to be out with my hands in the dirt making a small difference, keeping bits of plastic and foam from being eaten by fish or, ultimately, joining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And that’s worthwhile. But even moreso are the moments I get to have when I connect with this place I help to take care of. It’s the only place where I get to be right by the river, the wide and deep and ever-flowing Columbia, the heart of my bioregion. So many things I’ve learned there, and so many things yet to be discovered–and my beach is a keeper of some of those secrets. One need look no further than the outdoors for a Mystery School beyond compare.
Of course, eventually we have to go back to chop wood, carry water, sift styrofoam. By the time my day was done, I had one large garbage bag full, mostly with little things, but also a couple of rusted chunks of metal and an old steel cable fragment. While most of what I find out there is refuse, occasionally I pick up something neat. Today it was an old toy plane, in pretty good condition other than one missing wheel. Usually when I find usable found objects I clean them up and donate them to SCRAP, but this one I’m hanging on to; it’ll go along with the circa 1920 milk glass jar and some other random things I’ve found during my volunteer time. Call it the Land’s “tip” for a job well done 😉
*Which was itself an adaptation of the often-unattributed “The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley.