Friday, December 31, 2010


A word about recycled plastic. “no deposit no return”.

We found a two-foot section of a plastic 2x6 on the beach, a cut-off scrap, most likely  the end of a larger piece of decking. How to parse that one? This washed-up plastic board, made from trashed plastic, will never be anything other than plastic pollution once its usefulness has expired. Once the mix of all kinds of plastic is made into a board, it will never be another something—only more landfill, more toxins leaching out to the sea. And, if I have to replace my old redwood deck...? What will I do? I sure don’t want to cut more trees—oh boy livin' large in the age of trash.

Plastic is very seldom recycled it is either down-cycled or up-cycled. Confused? Up-cycling means making something more useful from trash like fleece from PET bottles. Down-cycling converts waste into something useful but less functional, like shampoo bottles into shipping pallets, into boards like this piece. Once the down-up has happened that’s the end of the line— a slight detour in a straight line toward the trash. No chasing arrows. Recycling means used over again for a similar purpose—an aluminum can becomes an aluminum can; a glass bottle becomes a glass bottle.

Feeling "green washed?" Just when you were feeling so virtuous tossing that plastic water bottle in the proper bin, you find out that the container industry has been hard at it putting the onus on the consumer—for years, instead of taking responsibility at the source, billions of bottles are spewing out. That terrible packaging for a new case for your phone, oy veh! The container industry has resisted putting a return tax, or bottle deposits and has actively moved to defeat bill after bill. Remember “no deposit no return.” The true costs of plastic are never fig'ered into the equation. But what happens next?

Cradle to Cradle

This is the most sustainable concept yet devised—make stuff in closed loops, feeding the natural cycle and the techno cycle. The natural cycle is about composting, converting "waste" to food or soil. The techno cycle is about true recycling—that a can becomes a can again idea. Creating plastic that can have several lives as the same thing. The sole of a flip-flop becomes a new sole.

And still, picking up a four pound piece of plastic and carrying it home feels like a tiny virtue. And telling about It, feels like a breath of sanity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice Greeting

Wasn't the Buddha's last instruction -
Make of yourself a lighter?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chirstmas Bird Count

After last night's howling winds and slashing rain and despite another major storm threatening (2010 is proving to be a wet year) we head out anyway. Maybe we'll get lucky and catch the trough in the storm. It's clear at 8 AM and the radar map looks free of rain clouds for a couple of hours at least. Who'd go to the beach today? We're surprised that the parking lot at Abbotts Lagoon (the beach just before Kehoe) is loaded with cars. Pretty rough weather coming, chilly but not too much wind yet. So many cars?

We start down the trail in our companionable silence. So nice to be together and quiet in nature and let the sounds in. Let the thoughts in. Surf in the distance, a lot of chirping in the marsh. We scare up a bunch of quail; their wing beats drum in the chest. Some paw prints in a slick patch of mud, fresh - we'd like them to be something exotic- fox, maybe weasel, but more likely a small raccoon. We have seen weasels here.

At the rise of the trail just before it dips down to the beach we see a group of four loaded with spotting gear—scopes and binos. They ask, "Are you doing the CBC? It's the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count." This explains the cars. "No, we're doing the Christmas Plastic Count," we say. They've seen Oyster Catchers, Kestrels, Virginia Rails and more. Numbers are rising and falling, mostly falling. We tell them about the Peregrine nest with four chicks we saw last spring.

After the night's windstorm, the sand has blown over everything: rocks,driftwood seaweed. It looks like a tan snowstorm. It's covering the abundance of plastic we expected to see. Still, we are able to gather a couple of bags full. The distribution for unusual things is so random. We find three soft rubbery fishing lures; white ones adding to the twelve-year total of 37, along with a coveted umbrella handle and a Mexican candy squeezer.

The water bottles we usually find are mostly local but there's one from China and then one with the label "Diet Aqua." Diet Water? Really? Yep, 0 calories. Turns out, it's from India, from the southeastern tip of the sub-continent near Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. Chennai used to be called Madras. How did this bottle get here? Googling it, we get a YouTube of the purification process. Bottled water is a form of consumer madness here,but makes sense in a place like India where bacteria and parasites thrive in damp tropical heat; where over a billion human digestive systems are hard at work.

The road to the beach follows Lagunitas Creek, the last really viable breedingplace in Central California for Coho Salmon. On the ride back we stop at a good place to look for them, where for years we've watched salmon thrashing in a mating frenzy. Last year, though, none. There is encouraging news this winter—after two years of calamitous drop in salmon populations, there seems to be an upswing.This spot's become a Bay Area destination so the Park Service has put in an observation area- a parking lot and interpretive signs. It's stunning to see the bright red males, big as your arm flipping themselves up the rushing waters, the females whooshing the gravel in the streambed to make nests to lay eggs. Today there's too much silt in the runoff to see any fish but the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle had a big story about the increasing numbers. You really get a sense of deep instinct seeing the fish.

What got us up this morning into the cold and wet? Some deep, very human instinct to make something in this world. To make something beautiful, even out of the trash we find at the beach. We've lately been reading The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton.

It surely is evident that the human will toward beauty and the hard, sometimes uncomfortable journey is as strong as those salmon swimming back to the bed of their making. We go the beach on a crappy day; the birders are out in numbers...people like something beautiful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Numbers of feet

We have boxes and boxes of shoe parts collected from our 1000 yard stretch of beach. Boxes. Hundreds of heals, padded inserts, flip-flops, whole shoes.

A friend was looking at this part of our collection and found a shoe, a DKNY spangled sandal she had scrimped for as a teenager. Cinderella tried it on and it fit. Was it hers? She was amazed to see her teen-angst fetish object, the thing that would lift her into a dreamworld of glamour, in a box of rubbish. Oh! how the desire for being loved is manipulated and rubbed raw.

All these shoes washed out of the Pacific remind us of numbers of human feet on the planet. Let's see...over 6.5 billion people on earth right now, that would be 13 billion. How to think about that number???

Walking back from the beach loaded down with bags and bags, dragging tied together buoys and bigger scraps, tied with rope found at the beach, Richard started playing an arithmetic game. It takes the mind off the burden of the load.

Hmm, how long is a million seconds?? That'd be twelve days. A billion seconds, that'd be thirty one years ... Shoes feet time—big numbers made real (.. er) by a little arithmetic footwork.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Party at Block Party

On Friday the folks from Larkin Street Youth Services came to Natoma Street to see the installation of Block Party. It was a thrill to show and share the windows with the participants who tirelessly helped to string the many, many strands of plastic. They were excited to see the result of their efforts displayed in such a public venue - it definitely was empowering. After we viewed the windows, we had a docent tour of the Cartier-Bresson exhibition at SFMOMA. Needless to say, it was a fun and art-full day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Birthday Beach

Late start today and not arriving at Kehoe until just before 4 PM. The sun behind a mackerel sky is telling us, more rain is on the way. The sun lights the clouds to a papier-mâché stage set for a Kabuki drama. The mind always wanders in an upswing of salt-air and wide, unbroken space. If this were on stage, it'd be telling the story of the lovely princess held at ransom by a brutal lord demanding fealty from the head Shogun. The Lord's mind has been compressed into a knot by endless warfare. Then he falls into a madness of love with the princess, grace herself, who feigns suicide. But then her captor, in his shock and grief does the seppuku for real.

A complicated story of human dimension we contemplate as we walk home down the trail in the dark. We saw a lion here just this last summer. A mountain lion, big, swiftly crossing the road at dawn. We both saw it a few yards from the Kehoe parking area. They like hunting at dawn and dusk and that makes for a very uncomplicated story of eat or eaten. Oh, the imagination...!

It's hard to look for plastic today, and not much worth writing about— the beach at sundown is magnificent. It's a super low tide (which meant a big high as well washing the beach pretty clean). The acreage has tripled and the sky doubled by mirror wash of the sliding soft surf. The exposed stacks of granite, right at the tide line are full of mussels, barnacles, starfish and anemones. We'll come back at the month's end with a pick and pail and gather a bunch for a great winter solstice meal. But the sky.... pink and blue-grey reflected in the sheen of the low tide wash makes your heart skip a beat. The heart.

On the way to the beach, (it's my birthday today—what the hell) I decided to count my breaths all the way down the trail, keeping track using the joints of my fingers like prayer beads... I imagine the image of the melancholy Kabuki drama as I walk. It's also the anniversary of my father's death, a very full man, who died on this day so I'd remember.