Since 1999 Richard and Judith Lang have focused their attention on just 1000 yards of tide line where they have collected plastic washing ashore on Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Although the news about plastic pollution is dire, they bring the excitement of scouting for treasures and the pleasure of the creative life to an otherwise difficult topic.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The Season Opener. 12th Year Anniversary.
There were no bands or speeches, no fireworks or singing of The Star Spangled Banner. But the sea wrack was a festive-looking bunting of green kelp cables confettied with bits of plastic shrapnel. Festive? Such a strange mix of feelings to be back on the job, both thrilled and at once, thoroughly disgusted. It's a sullen day of lowering clouds portending rain.
All of this stuff tossed away and now come back, sea worn, some of it from the 1940's when synthetics rose to replace vital materials for the war effort. We've found items we can date from that era, intact and completely identifiable. Time and forever. The long forever. And geologic time is part of the scene at Kehoe. The line of cliffs here make a horizontal time-line ranging from the Miocene (10 MYA) back to 100 million years to the Cretaceous.Soon after we bent to the task (Judith found the first lighter of the season and right away Richard found the first cheese spreader stick) a group of forty came through the defile of the trail and down to the beach. Each with a printout of the 1000-yard silhouette of the cliff wall. The line drawing looks like some Levantine script. Geology class. We've seen dozens of these groups. Two TA’s carry square headed pick hammers.
They've come to see the bones of the earth exposed and laid out like some monumental "Fig. A" in the book of slow changes. Toward the end of the beach is a dramatic texture and color change as grey granite sits contiguously in contact with pale yellow sandstone.
The students seem curious and open-faced, bright and on task unlike some groups we see who, filling a science requirement, present a sullen overweight and disinterested manner. Today these Geology majors from UC Berkeley seem genuinely interested. We show a girl the bag of plastic we've collected, explain that the future geologists will describe our findings as fragments from the Plasticene Era. We ask the teacher, "How did 10 million year old rock get butted smack against 100 million year old rock?" He tells how the Monterey Formation was on a magma conveyor that collided with the granite. The granite is the same pluton bubble that made the Sierras. “Pluton?” Richard queries. The teacher responds, “The huge up thrust of deep granite. The borderline of the collision is called an unconformity or discontinuity. It's a violent event though in slow motion. Fossils are usually broken up. You rarely see fossils at the juncture but go look just past that dune and you can see a line of barnacles and mollusks." We do and there they are, the secret inner life of stone long in the dark, now exposed for us to see.The Prof says he's never seen this anywhere else in the inexorable motion of geology. He is talking about time, big time. Yet, even in our short twelve years here, we've seen changes. This year the plastic arrived earlier than we've ever seen and last spring it stayed later.
Today we collect two bags of random chunks and the usual oyster tubes, sabots, tiparello tips. No soldiers though. We love finding soldiers.On the trail back we stop to watch a three-foot garter snake moving sluggishly in the grass. Usually they vanish like water poured down a drain. This snake has a small rat inside made visible in the expanded girth about three inches below the head. We know it’s a rat cause some folks coming along behind us say they had seen the snake trying to swallow the rat. They couldn't believe it got the thing swallowed. I tell Judith I once saw a snake with a frog head in its mouth. Nothing but the head, the body already down the hatch.At the trailhead next to the road there are two garbage cans – one for sorting recyclables, one for trash. Because of our strict parameters of “found on 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach” we usually don’t do this but Judith took a look–see. In the can sitting up on a broken plastic Igloo cooler lid was a soldier. Right there, our first soldier of the season. Yea! It seems like some strange victory for the season opener. Pyrrhic victory at best.