Friday, October 30, 2009


It’s fall. 2009. The tail end of the dry season. We go to Kehoe more as wanderers in a beautiful place, than as the usual collectors. Normally, in the “off” season for plastic we’ll head for the woody mountain region of the park. The towering columns of the old fir trees grow into a cooling parasol, a reprieve from the tired dusty fever of summer. Bear Valley Trail with its tributary trails up to the ridgeline is a favorite. We counted up, that after so long in one place we’ve been on that trail collectively over 600 times. But today we head for Kehoe. The summer fog that turns Kehoe into a refrigerator has lifted.

At its simplest this project has gotten us outside a lot, out and into this broad and nearly wild place. Birds alone count for the allure attractant with 490 species seen in the park. At Kehoe we see swallows nesting in cave cliffs of the Laird Sandstone, Ravens croaking overhead, Gulls of course, Terns and scarlet-legged Oystercatchers, Murres and Cormorants abound. Endangered Snowy Plovers nest here. One wintry weekday we came over the hill to the beach expecting an empty beach, and saw a herd of over 300 birders, all dressed alike in olive weather-wear, binoculars slung, and spotting scopes at the ready. The Bristle-thighed Curlew had been spotted, never seen here before and grist for the listers trophy count. In late spring the air is honeyed with yellow bush Lupine and earlier the cliffs above the beach you can see an archipelago of deep purple Iris mixing perfectly with bright orange Poppies. This is truly an alchemist crucible able to transform despair into uplift. We glad to be a very small part of keeping it that way.

We go not expecting much plastic to have accumulated, just a nice day, sunny, warm with a fairly low afternoon tide when the beach can widen by 100 meters: more real estate to scrounge if there is to be any plastic. From the cliff top we can view the Great Beach, ten miles of it, stretching south disappearing in pale blue surf mist. Our prediction proved right - though the beach was not completely clean of plastic. Random shards, mostly white, and tiny pieces in bright colors. Like gold miners we know nurdles will show up in depressions where heavier sands hold against the wind. We find trails of nurdles picking up 20-30 in each little “vein.” But really, there is little to pick up. Against the soft, buckskin colored Laird Sandstone cliffs, dunes form like drifts on the north side of houses in snow country, a gap forming in rolling wind tubes. There is always plastic to be found there regardless of season. We decide to check and see and then continue our walk. We struggle up the fifteen-foot sliding sand dune, dropping into the hollow. There is a hubcap size chunk of whale or seal blubber rotting into a nauseating stink. We paw through the sand to cover it up so we can stick around for a bit without gagging. In our digging we see a lot of plastic just under the surface.

Now, we are drawn in and on the hunt. We find the usual load of shotgun sabots and tiparillo tips, nurdles, a trio of lighters and two Handi-snack spreaders. Judith finds a sand abraded girl’s hairclip, always a reminder that this stuff belonged to someone, is connected to a human life. Like scraps from the middens of Troy, here parsing some kind of post-modern Linear B to decipher what we find. Then she gives out with a whoop and offers a closed fist extending and opening it in a classical gesture of “lookie what I got” to reveal a bleached white T-Rex. It’s tiny in her palm, an inch and a half long. A plastic T-Rex, Lilliputian, probably come here across the sea given its wear, left to tell us a story of a child’s fascination and dreamy play life using miniature dinosaurs in a drama of eat and be eaten.

The petite thing is made from petroleum fossil oil deposits like most plastic. The Sinclair oil  “Dino” popularized the notion that oil came from dinosaurs and in a crude way of thinking is only true if you think of the time of dinosaurs. It’s said that it would take one T-Rex completely rendered down to make enough gas for one cross-country journey. That’s a lot of dinosaurs. But the irony of finding the thing still hovers over our day. In all the years we’ve been doing this and the toys we’ve found at the beach there are probably a half dozen dinosaurs. A great find for our collection today.