Last week I shared how much I enjoyed the litter picking part of our job, because we were outside, walking trails, and driving in the golf cart, singing and making a game of it.
I had even said to Marika, “I want a litter picker upper for Chanukah.” Because everywhere we went, I honed in on all of the litter that needed to be picked up, and I never had a bag with me. Marika, the ever money-conscious part of this team said, “New raingear, new shoes, the radiator and the dehumidifier?” You already got your presents.”
And I let it go, realizing I could simply carry a plastic bag and wear rubber gloves.
And then, during our first shift at the Lighthouse Museum, Marika found a litter picker in the hall closet, next to the cleaning supplies. It was even nicer than the one I used at the campground, with two rubber circles at the ends of the grabbers for better pick up accuracy. I took it home, along with a plastic yellow bucket and a handful of latex gloves, and this morning, I went litter picking.
It was in the low 40’s but I was warm with my three layers of sweatshirt, hoody and rain jacket, and my latex gloves over my winter gloves. They sky was gray, the waves were white and it wasn’t raining.
I started around our camping spot, picking up the empty Irish Springs soap boxes that the previous camper left, maybe for keeping mice away. Then I walked up the grassy hill and plucked small pieces of papers from the bushes along the edge of the Douglas County Maintenance parking lot.
I turned onto Lighthouse Road, and walked around the curve to what I call the Triangle Meditation Park, a large, grassy area on the bluff above the Oregon Dunes and the ocean. It is surrounded by sala plants, rhododendron bushes, and three kinds of shrubs and trees.
There is a red metal park bench at the edge of the bluff, offering a 180° view of the ocean. If you sit on the right edge of the bench, you are in exact alignment with the top of the Isosceles triangle that is formed by the south jetty and the training jetty, where the Umpqua River meets the Pacific Ocean. There’s an oyster farm in the triangle, said to be the best because the oysters are suspended in the water, never touching the sandy bottoms, and they filter a perfect mix of 80% salt water and 20% fresh water from the river.
The bench was wet, so I just stood and looked out at the waves crashing hard and high over the jetties. It started to sprinkle, so I pulled my rain jacket hood over my head and kept going.
I walked the rim of the park area, scanning the grass and foliage for anything that wasn’t green. I found soggy white tissues and brown, fast-food napkins. I was fooled by a curled up bright orange leaf, thinking it was a Cheetos bag. I plucked silver can tabs, a few bottle caps, and three 25 oz cans of Hurricane High Gravity malt liquor that were tucked deep in the brambling blackberry vines. I was grateful for the length of the picker, and the wide mouth on the end of the grabbers.
Back in the wayside parking lot where cars pull in for the view, I picked up at least a hundred cigarette butts. Most were smoked down to the last inch and a half, in varying stages of disintegration. With the outside papers gone, the soggy white filters stuck to the ground, and they were the hardest to grab. After picking them up one at a time, I tried two, then three, then how many could I get at once.
Picking up and dropping them into the bucket had a meditative rhythm, but, doing it right handed, my shoulder started to hurt. It’s never been the same since I slid, unexpectedly, out of the tow truck on my return from the Heart Sparks Road Tour last year. It was a long first step down and I yanked my shoulder as I slid until my feet touched the ground.
And this picker stick must be longer than the one I used at the State Park, because I’m moving my arm differently in order to drop the trash in the bucket. When I switched to using my left hand, I noticed I was pulling my arm back, as if I were shooting an arrow. I tried it with my right side and it didn’t hurt as much.
When I put the bucket down and just worked the same area, it was even better. I switched off, left handed, then right again, filling my yellow bucket with the torn off pieces of wrappers, an empty cigarette pack and a two-inch spring, which I pocketed to add to my found art supplies.
I saw a candy wrapper behind the whale watching station so I walked in the dirt along the railing and found an empty can of sliced mushrooms in front of two white crosses with blue bows on them. I took the can, said a prayer, and went back up to the parking lot for more cigarette butts.
On the walk back I did a visual sweep of the street and saw my lost index card with my lighthouse notes on the road, nearly disintegrated from being run over in the rain. The blue markered words WATCH ROOM were barely readable at the top of the card. I picked up what I could and headed toward home.
I stopped again at the triangle bench and the sky has turned a darker gray out over the water. The horizon line was barely visible and the waves were still crashing high on the jetty. The sprinkling had turned to a faster shower and I realized my feet were pretty cold. Still, I stood on the bluff and watched the waves roll for a few more minutes. I did a series of modified sun salutations, even though there was no sun, soaking in the gifts of this place, this life, and saying thank you.