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.

There is a bit of polystyrene foam a couple of inches in front of my shoe. I picked it up and also six more bits of plastic shown in this photo. The green is seaweed.

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.

A year of sea glass. Even after they have been sanded, a tumble in the basalt will break and chip the glass. Some glass feels rough even though it’s frosted, some pieces are identifiable as jar rims or bottle bottoms, some show embossed letters, the rare piece is butter-smooth.

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.

In 1980 Mt St. Helens exploded and sent ash into the air and down rivers. Pumice from that eruption washed up on shore. Early on we found pieces bigger than babies’ fists. But these days, in a high sea, the tumbled basalt stones on shore sometimes release bits of pumice that have been trapped and ground under the heavier dark stones. These pieces are no more than an inch long, all found in one day, often noticed only because I was picking up something else.


9 thoughts on “GATHERING

  1. One of my planned activities for when I am no longer tethered to a day job is to pick up trash. I’ve already bought a grabber as some of the trash I see is in mucky ponds. I see too much of it when I got for walks in my own neighborhood. Yesterday, during a short walk at my workplace, I picked up a glass bottle that had been used for fireworks (I guess because the opening was scorched) and a plastic bottle half-filled with water. I didn’t have a bag or my grabber with me at the time, otherwise there would have been more picking up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you picking up litter. I often think that if everyone just picked up a few things each time they were out and about, the problem would disappear.

      We have a grabber, gifted by a friend, and we use it often but not for beach litter. You can probably tell from the photo with my foot why that is. Everything we gather has been washed by the ocean, usually for a very long time, and when it hasn’t we use gloves.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I scatter marbles and “dragon’s tears” and decorative bits designed for the bottoms of clear vases in the gravel around my Ozark cabin. I do it for whimsy, for visual relief, for a project that can occupy me for years. I suppose I am doing the opposite of your effort, unless you consider placing all of these things in one location a kind of gathering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would say you are offering up but it may also seem another sort of gathering.

      [There are people who toss their empty bottle over the bank onto the shore. They are doing this mostly because they are drunk, but it is a sort of gift—eventually the shards are worn by the sea with less harm that the plastic bottle caps.]


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