An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of May 8, 2011
written at Mayan Gardens Resort north of Mahahual, Quintana Roo, MÉXICO

PICKING UP TRASH

Enormous amounts of trash, little of it originating locally, wash onto the beach here. Especially after a weather system blows in, the next day the beach with all its plastic bottles and caps, half-buried sheets of plastic, rubbery flip-flop soles, Styrofoam cups, Bic lighters, torn fish-netting, frayed rope, all entangled in washed-up seaweed... looks pretty bad.

You think of all the turtles out there with plastic bags twisting in their stomachs because the bags floating in water look like jellyfish. You think of all the fish that died because butane-filled Bic lighters floating at the water's surface look like small, surface-feeding fish. And if you keep thinking about it, eventually you realize that if someone doesn't pick up this garbage it'll just wash back into the sea the next storm that comes along.

So, eventually you get out there with garbage bags and start picking things up. The wind does this thing with flimsy garbage bags causing the bags' leeward side to suck in and cling to the front so that the bag stays closed. Opening the bag, which also twists in the wind, is hard. After you bend over a few hundred times picking stuff up, every time having to fight the bag to open it, you start wondering what kind of perverted psychology or decadent sociology is responsible for all that garbage in the first place.

But, you can't go there. If you start assigning blame, finding fault, before long you don't like anyone, including yourself.

So, why get out there and pick up trash, struggling with those stupid wind-sealed bags, when there's no end to the situation in sight and, in fact, each year there's just more and more garbage dumped into the oceans?

Maybe that's like asking why members of the orchestra kept playing as the Titanic sank. To some people it's perfectly clear that those musicians were crazy, but to others they were heroes.

I suspect that the Titanic's musicians saw themselves as neither crazy nor heroic, but rather each musician asked himself, "At this critical moment in my life, what other worthy, dignified thing, right now and given my options, can I really do... ?" Facebook Icon.