the beauty of garbage?

This summer I spent a lot of early mornings walking Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, Mass picking up garbage. What started July 5th as a way to make the weekend better for everyone turned into something else.

Late in August, I wanted to sleep in, but I realized that I had really habituated or even ritualized my beach clean-up. I had become obsessive. I panicked that if I didn’t pick up garbage that day some kid could cut their foot and ruin their family’s much-needed vacation, or people would think Town Neck is a gross beach and not want to return.

My hypothetical thoughts raced. This wasn’t actually my job. I decided I had to take the day off, I was getting a little weird about it all.

Looking back at my summer now, I’m really proud of what I did. I felt purposeful in a time of American life that feels so surreal. I was thanked by many other sunrise beach walkers. I met some really interesting people. And as a photographer, the light was just so gorgeous every single day sun or fog or in-between. I found a lot of shovels and toys, but of course people are naturally leery about picking up things like that now.

These photos may make some people disappointed in humanity, but rest assured all of these items were picked up and saved from polluting the ocean during the next high tide. Now, on to the streets of Burlington, Vermont.

beach trash in 50 words…

August beach trash somehow seems oddly different to me than a few weeks ago—lacking the playful carefreeness possessed earlier in the summer. The recent items left behind seem more like the oversight of COVID foggy, tired August parents & teenagers just so done with home, social distancing & rules.

inorganic matter…

When my friend Jon and I couldn’t figure out what to do with our 8ish-year-old selves, we often walked around town and picked up trash. Right now, I sometimes don’t exactly know what to do with myself (you know, given the state of the world and all). So here I am, a 53-year-old woman, once again, walking around town picking up trash.

You know what’s pretty cool about this? I’ve discovered I have a superpower. I can spot inorganic matter like nobody’s business.

INORGANIC: not arising from natural growth (Merriam Webster)

Sometimes inorganic matter is very obvious…

Other times it’s barely detectable…

As I walked along the beach, I thought about the concept of organic and inorganic as they relate to our feelings. Organic emotions are what we know on some deep, cellular level. Inorganic emotions are planted by others and adopted as our own over time.

LOVE is organic, we’re born with it.

HATE is taught and learned, very inorganic.

Twenty-four-hours of news television, radio, and social media are inorganic. Talking heads paid to tell us who to fear, what to buy, and who or what we are supposed to hate is far from organic. All of those media platforms make a lot of money off of our thoughts and clicks.

This dangerously inorganic system was designed to make us fearful, divided, anxious, angry, and uncertain. Sadly, it’s working like a charm.

Searching for personal understanding is challenging (and exhausting)—especially during an election year with a world-wide pandemic causing health, economic. educational, and employment chaos.

Q. With so much uncertainty in the world, how can we keep inorganic matter from clouding our inner knowing?

A. Notice. Practice. Repeat.

This was one of the oddest group of items I’ve happened upon so far—an attachment for a vacuum cleaner, a s’more stick still in plastic, orange netting. and an ant covered coconut chunk. I could easily concoct a narrative about why these items fit together. I didn’t bother though.

I left a chunk of the coconut, I thought some kid on the beach would get a kick out of seeing the ants chomping away. Organic, yet out of context…worthy of some good ole’ fashioned pondering.