Most of us see stuff on the beach and either walk on by or put it in our pockets to take home, but that’s the end of it. Oregon author Bonnie Henderson took it a step farther, actually a lot of steps farther. In her book Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris (OSU Press, 2008) she follows the stories of six items found on an Oregon beach: a glass float, a dead bird, one size 11 athletic shoe, a minke whale, the charred remains of a fishing boat, and a sea animal’s egg case. One by one, she follows the trail of these items, traveling to their origin, including trips to China, Japan and Washington, talking to the experts. In the case of the shoe, for example, she traced it back to where it was made in China, found the container ship bearing that shipment of shoes, which lost part of its cargo in a storm, and tracked the ocean currents to see how it wound up on Mile 157 of the Oregon coast.
Henderson’s stories are packed with science, but they are also about people and animals. She tells them in such a way that even the most unscientific among us can enjoy it. I was also pleased to recognize some of the coastal folks she interviewed including my neighbors Bob and Shirley Loeffel. It’s a good book, as is the next book she published, The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast.
Henderson’s book made me think about what Annie and I find on our walks. Most of our discoveries don’t have such interesting stories behind them. The most common sights are coffee containers from Dutch Brothers, Starbucks, and the other local caffeine stations, of which we have at least five between here and the north end of Newport. Plastic cup, plastic lid, plastic straw, all of which are supposed to be recyclable, just tossed into the brush. Annie tends to grab them and lick as much of the beverage as she can get while I chant, “Drop it, drop it, damn it Annie, drop it.” Thanks to the litterbugs, my dog has a taste for coffee, especially with whipped cream. She will also eat plastic if I let her.
We find beer cans, Coors Light mostly, which I grab up, wash and recycle, along with discarded half-eaten McDonald’s meals—Annie likes burgers and fries, too—potato chips, cookies, orange peels, snuff, cigarette packs and cigarette butts, socks, underwear, shopping receipts, CDs, and Watchtower pamphlets. None of this is good for dogs and other animals. What’s sad is that often there’s a garbage can nearby. Every few days, I bag it all up and throw it away, but there’s always more.
Because our walks take us down roads and paths through the coastal forest, nature leave its share of flotsam, too: dead newts, dead garter snakes, dead robins and Stellar’s jays, dead rabbits, a dead possum that has been deteriorating into dust for months, mysterious bones, feathers, once feet cut off of a deer, and once a massacred chicken, probably killed by one of the hawks or vultures that often circle above us. We find tracks from all kinds of animals. We also find branches knocked down in the latest windstorm, mushrooms in the fall and wildflowers in the spring. In other words, we find what’s supposed to be there, along with what’s not.
We rarely run into wild animals or other people while we’re on our walks, but clearly a lot goes on when we’re not around.
We can’t all research to the extent that Bonnie Henderson does, but go for a walk. See what you find and think about where it came from. If it’s garbage, put it where it belongs.