Friday, August 13, 2010

The new archeology – or, find a lighter, save a life

(from Lee First, Field Investigator for North Sound Baykeeper)

In the light summer rain last Saturday, about 30 volunteers met to spend the morning collecting litter on the banks of the Stillaguamish River, a few miles west of Arlington. We were a motley crew – six children, five teenagers, a few aged hippies (me, included), some scholarly types, young couples, and a group of fishers. This cleanup was a combined effort by the Stillaguamish Fish Enhancement Group, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, and the North Sound Baykeeper. I gave a short pep talk about the fate of plastic in water. I held up a cigarette lighter, and said “for every one of these you find, you might be saving the life of an albatross, or other seabird.”

A young couple I’d never met before started crawling amongst the bases of giant knotweed clumps, searching for plastic bags. I joined them for a while, and indeed – the clumps seemed to attract plastic bags, and we pulled dozens out of each clump. I asked the couple “are you familiar with the North Sound Baykeeper, or the Waterkeeper Alliance?” They had never heard of us, and they had never been to a litter pickup event before – they just wanted to spend some time outside, volunteering. I ambled on, wanting to get into what I call the observation zone. It’s meditation, and it’s partly why I collect plastic.

I’m deep into the zone, picking up cigarette butts in the rocks when a little blond girl in a pink outfit runs up to me, shouting “I found a lighter!” She shows it to me; it’s a green bic lighter, in perfect shape. I congratulated her, and said “That’s great – you just saved the life of a seabird!” She skipped off to join her mom and sister, who were patrolling the riverbank with white buckets and litter grabbers, picking up beer cans.

Next stop – a couple teenagers had found a party spot – a large fire pit covered with beer cans, cigarette butts, and lots of spent fireworks. They were putting these items into bags, and sorting out the cans for recycling. One of the boys noticed that within the ashes of the pits, there were lots of nails. We all sat down around the pit, and started to dig out the nails. There were thousands of them. When we’d picked out all the nails, we scattered back onto the riverbanks.

Although one of the reasons I help organize litter pickups is to meet new people, I also love to collect brightly colored plastic, especially lighters and fishing lures. And off in the distance, I noticed the edge of a logjam, with lots of sizes of woody debris – the perfect place for lighters to accumulate. Lighters that still contain fuel can float long distances. Lighters that have no fuel or have lost their flints or metal parts float below the surface, and get snagged along their way. I walked to the log jam, started crawling over it, looking underneath the large logs for smaller wood, where the lighters land. I found seven in the jam, plus one that could be a peds dispenser, similar in size. I pocketed them, and walked back to join the rest of the gang.

When I was a kid, I was mesmerized by rocks, shells, and the sound of waves on the water. Now, I look for plastic. It’s the new archeology. Not your style, you might say. Well, give it a try – you might be surprised how much fun you have.

1 comment:

  1. Great group and a great cause! Woot on the new blog and a fine post!