The hieroglyphics on the beach were obscure and alien.
Who could have created them? What did they mean?
I had heard of a fellow who raked labyrinths into the beach at Bandon, Oregon; to walk, to follow, to invoke a sense of meditation and peace. I’d even seen pictures. But these patterns were of a different style.
More geometric, less flowing, more lines and angles. Who could even freehand such perfect arcs and straight lines? Have the Nasca made a return on a smaller scale? Is this a beach bum’s version of crop circles?
I’ll never know. The tide erased the evidence, leaving a blank slate for another day.
I admit, when I came to Bandon I hoped that the resident maze master would have created a labyrinth for us to see and walk, if the tide had not already practiced it’s own form of meditation upon it. But that wasn’t the only reason.
I first encountered Bandon back in 1977, when I was exploring the western US for a new place to live. I was struck by the beauty of its beaches and always wanted to return. It only took 42 years to fulfill that wish.
The afternoon we were there was bright and sunny and very windy. Too bright, really, for good photography, the sun blue light peeked into every nook and cranny and created harsh shadows. And on that first vertical inch of beach, gangs of sand grains whipped along, abusing sandaled toes while the wind turned our ears into noisy wind tunnels.
It was a nice view, but not super comfortable. We abandoned Bandon proper, and headed further south to the Bandon State Natural Area.
This turned out to be more beach and fewer people. It went further inland and provided grounds for beach grass and the last gasp for old trees.
How do things even grow on a beach? Even if a seed managed to not get blown away, how much nutrient can there be in salty sand?
Ok, ok, we spent time walking around the town center, and did the traditional, “we’re on the coast so we have to have the clam chowder or fish and chips” routine. Some folks take great pictures of small-town storefronts – I’ve never been that inspired by them. But there was something we encountered while walking along that was definitely out of the ordinary.
We found Henry in a non-descript place, swimming along in a clearing between a sidewalk and a parking lot, with ho-hum buildings in the background. Henry was not non-descript. Probably 15 feet long, he was a sculpture made entirely from trash picked up off the beach.
There’s an astonishing amount of trash that ends up on the beach. Some of it gets brought by tourists or locals, sloppy about cleaning up after themselves. Some comes from rivers, feeding the trash they pick up into their ocean terminus. Some is washed up from the ocean, coming from who knows where. Ocean currents have brought crap all the way from Japan. Not long ago an entire dock that washed loose in the Japanese tsunami washed up on Oregon shores, complete with its own ecosystem.
It’s common for Oregon coastal towns to support an artist population. Bandon has one that’s trying to make a difference, by converting trash picked up on local shores into sculptures, and using these sculptures to bring attention to the problem of plastic (and other) pollution in the oceans. It’s called Washed Ashore.
Beginning in 2010, Washed Ashore was founded by Angela Ponzi. With the help of a small dedicated staff and thousands of volunteers, they gather garbage off the coast and reshape it into various sculptures.
Since they’ve begun, they’ve collected over 19 tons of junk and created over 60 sculptures. Many of these sculptures travel the country to raise awareness of the problem, and to encourage folks to do their bit to reduce it.
It’s not just plastics fouling the ocean. A dead whale washed up on the Washington coast had plastic bags, towels, sweat pants, surgical gloves, duct tape, and a golf ball found in its stomach.
Glass and other garbage show up as well, as the ill-fated whale demonstrated. Still, 90% of the garbage collected by Washed Ashore is petroleum based. 95% of it gets reused in the artwork.
Plastics take a long time to break down. And even when they break down into microplastics, they can still affect smaller life – the bottom of the food chain.
What sort of thing goes into the sculptures? Plastic bags, bottles, shoes, lighters, bottle caps, nets, toys, toothbrushes, fake flowers, styrofoam, the list goes on. Feel free to click on any of these pictures and enlarge them to take a closer look.
Plastic bags are one of the biggest offenders. Often mistaken for sea jellies, these cause major problems for sea turtles and other creatures.
A Bandon Hope is that people will recognize the problems created by the throwaway society, by over packaging, by poor disposal methods and the lack of reuse.
And as for those who think this is just a snowflake liberal cause, that it doesn’t affect them or their children, that they’re free to use their rivers and oceans as a garbage dump; if this keeps up I have only one comment – and I speak as a scuba diver with a first-hand view of how the ocean is deteriorating.
Abandon hope. The Kraken of Time is coming for you.
For more information and more sculptures, see the Washed Ashore website.