As I travel down the 101, I am flooded by waves of bliss. This section of raw highway runs adjacent to Oregon’s pristine and scenic coastline, and I have fallen in love with the world all over again. It’s just me and my dog and my old trustworthy van. After a summer of challenging months, I was answering my hearts cry for adventure. It was fall now and a new story was about to unfold. Being on the road with no real agenda, with nothing more than an open heart and an open mind, naturally navigates you down rugged terrain, but life has a way of delivering exactly what is needed at any particular time.
I stopped at every beach, and to my surprise, I was usually alone. The Oregon Beach Bill of 1967 allows free beach access to everyone, meaning that no person or company can build directly on the coast, leaving the entire 363-mile stretch unobstructed. I sit in the warm golden sand for hours and hours and I feel more at home in these places than I have for a long time. I stare out into the sparkling blue waters, the ocean my greatest teacher, as she continuously demonstrates the importance of powerful flow and the art of letting go. I am inspired, and I wander down to the area where the waves kiss the sand and feel a surge of energy as the cold water washes over my feet.
I walk a few miles with my dog, and suddenly the beauty of the area is freckled with the bodies of dead birds. My dog notices them first, but it becomes increasingly difficult to not be disturbed by the piles of rotting flesh. As I investigate, I discover that as they decompose, the plastic inside their stomachs does not. This stays consistent down pretty much the entire coast of Oregon, from Cannon beach, all the way through Cape Kiwanda, Florence, down to Bandon. I meet a park ranger at one of the state parks along the way, and I point out the sad situation to him and ask him for his thoughts. He tells me that it’s linked to the amount of plastic in the ocean, both miscellaneous trash from human pollution as well as debris washing up along the west coast from Fukishima. Not only are the beaches seeing thousands of dead birds, but tons of other marine life is washing up on the shores with plastic found in their bellies as well.
These are the types of things you read about occasionally in a blog post or in an article on facebook, but to witness the amount of plastic inside of these birds was truly horrifying. To realize that humans have this type of impact on marine eco systems is disheartening. Then I start to think about all the wonderful people that I know that dedicate their lives to conservation and to finding solutions to these problems, instead of dwelling in grief, where so many of us seem to get stuck.
As a traveller, I temporarily belong to no community. I ask myself how I give back when I belong to nothing. These are the opportunities we create when service is in need, and although we may not be directly to blame for the situation, we still have the ability to make choices that will have a positive impact on all living beings. I spent the majority of my time in Oregon cleaning up plastic and garbage along the shorelines, and put up signs at all of the beaches explaining the situation. I also left garbage bags behind for others who might feel compelled to help collect debris that washes up. During this process, I met locals who helped out, some who had no idea this was happening, and others who showed me pictures and shared stories of the dead bodies of animals they had recently found on the shore, decaying, with plastic throughout them.
The ocean is a major source of inspiration for so many of us. She is alive, she is raw, she is wild, and she will remind us to stay present in each moment. Let us all have the opportunity to fall in love with the ocean, so that we can understand how sacred she is and how she and all of her creatures need our protection. Let us not dwell in the unfortunate destruction of earths eco systems, for when we live in grief we become immobile.
Let us work collectively to find creative solutions to the challenges we currently face in order to continue having intimate relationships with mother earth, and so we can pass along abundance to the next seven generations.