We gather trash and treasures from the beach most mornings: plastic twine and bits of flattened plastic foam the size of a dime. We look for agates and glass worn smooth in the rocks and sand. In and out the ocean throws its skirts up on shore. The twice-daily wash of water tumbles the basalt, lifts and shifts sand into a new landscape each day.
We gather what does not belong and also what we find beautiful. Sometimes people ask what we are gathering and suggest we make art from the trash. Sometimes they thank us. Sometimes they unload their own pocket of trash into our sack. It takes hundreds or thousands of bits of plastic to make up the pounds we collect in a week. We never get it all. There are plastic beads I do not even try to gather, tiny bits. I aim for the larger pieces that will become those tiny bits if I do not gather them first.
Most of what we find is not recognizable. Most is not dropped by tourists, though we do find plastic cups and cup lines, beach toys, juice straws, and the torn-off corners of candy wrappers. So many bottle caps. The plastics several mils thick, the mysterious valves and tubes come from somewhere else. I bend over for a piece the size of a quarter and pick up at least two more that are nearby. I am good for only so many bends before my back aches. By that time, Gary is already urging me on toward home.
Most of the glass we find is clear, but close examination shows a faint gray or yellow or green cast. There are many shades of green from pale to deep blue-green. Cobalt blue is most rare. Only once Gary found pale pink and I found what must have been a glass bead, opaque and red. There were a few piece of pale yellow, and one chunk of opaque white. The “brown” glass is dark orange, usually from beer bottles. Most brown glass is tiny because the bottles are thin. We find melted glass sometimes. Some people try to burn the bottles as they also try to burn plastic. The plastic gives off toxic fumes as is shrivels into misshapen globs and is difficult to spot.
I gather pebbles too, what I call “flat-smooths.” I have a box of caramel-colored flat smooths and a box that is half red and half green. No blue stones on our shore. The translucent gold to amber flat-smoothes are “egg yolks” and if they contain multiple colors such as white and amber they are “Easter eggs.” A stones tinted a particular blush are “pinkies.” I only find them in one stretch of beach. We have found purple-tinted crystals, bubbles of agate, and plenty of jasper, which are the best of the red flat-smoothes.
Every day as we walk the shore I think about our gathering.
We gather family this weekend. We gather our thoughts. We gather as a nation shocked by cruelty by hunger and thirst, by the desire of some to bully other merely because they can.
We gather together to proclaim our devotion to truth and justice. We gather our joys and fears and resentments and tenderness too. We gather.