Plastic Omens and Other Curiosities- A Message from The Sea
If the sea could speak to us, what do you think she would say?
In what language would she speak?
And do you think you would be able to understand her if she chose you to be her messenger?
Those who were brought up by the ocean may be more adept at deciphering her messages than those who, like me, are more accustomed to the inland rivers and lakes.
However, this summer during our short camping trip by the coast of Catalonia, all of that changed, at least for one day.
On this day the sea spoke to me.
Here, in this post, I relay the message to you.
A storm at sea
It began the night before, as we were preparing to go out for our evening meal.
A wind had picked up. Somewhere a storm was brewing.
All of our camping neighbours began to scurry around, attempting to tie down whatever could grow wings and disappear during the night.
“Va a llover!”, they told us. It’s going to rain!
“¡Venga! Coje las cosas!” Quick! Let’s pack up!
Our humble tent abode and feeble camping possessions meant we had nothing to lose-we just had to cross our fingers and hope for the best. Our more professional camping neighbours- kitted out with huge fridge freezers, barbecues and gazebos- had more at stake.
With our tent safely secured (we hoped!) and with still no sight of rain, we braved the wind and set off for our evening stroll along the seafront towards the village. As we reached the coastal path, a flash caught our eye.
Was it a lighthouse or a lightning strike?
A second flash confirmed the latter.
A third flash- much bigger and brighter than the first two, stopped us in our tracks.
Suddenly the horizon was ablaze with electricity.
There, where the sky meets the sea, a party was kicking off. It seemed that mother nature was gearing up for a big night on the town.
People started to gather in awe of the show that had started to commence.
The stage was set and the audience had taken their seats.
Taking its cue, the lightning flashed brighter, more boldly and dramatically, whilst the delayed thunder clapped and cheered as mother nature did her thing.
For the next half an hour we stood and enjoyed the best firework display I had ever seen. Lightning danced across the sky; vertically, horizontally, diagonally.
Like a nimble acrobat at work, it bent and doubled; twisted and turned; a show of creative expression in the night sky.
Every 30 seconds another strike came down, slicing its way through the inky-black ocean, teasing and tantalising us, much to the pleasure of the crowd.
Spectating from a safe distance of no doubt hundreds of kilometres, I marvelled at the immense power of a storm at sea.
It was as if mother nature had taken it suddenly upon herself to show us how it’s done.
Suddenly all those big city firework displays that I had seen before- from New York to Hong Kong- seemed like child’s play.
Here was the master at work. May we watch and learn.
We all stood huddled together, trying to catch this magnificent display on our smartphones and cameras. But what showed up on our tiny screens couldn’t do justice to what our eyes were able to perceive.
After numerous unsatisfying attempts, we gave up, defeated. With no other option other than to surrender to the present moment, we simply watched in silent awe.
Eventually, the chill of the wind and the rumble of our stomachs willed us on.
But the party continued well into the night. The shrieks of the waves and the applause of the thunder made sure everyone knew that mother nature was enjoying herself. And on this particular night, there was no stopping her.
The day after the night before
The next morning we awoke from our slumber to blue skies. The party had finished and the last of the guests had gone home. But the ripple effects of last night’s shenanigans were still to be felt.
The sea was choppy and the rocks that were usually the spot for teens to show off their finesse as they jumped off into the usually tranquil waters looked hazardous. The beach- a little cove with a sandy shore and clear blue water- was rough and unappealing.
With no swimming possible, we instead decided to hike along the coast.
It was the last day of our summer road trip. After 3 weeks of adventures, the moody sea gave us an adequate atmosphere for much-needed reflection.
As I walked, hood up to protect my ears from the whistling wind, I contemplated the new ideas, dreams and intentions that had begun to take root.
In this meditative state, it was easier to commune with the ocean. Free from the distraction of swimming or soaking up the sun, and happily almost alone on the path, somehow I felt closer to that primordial soup that seems so far away in my day to life in the city.
Her energy seemed to pull me into a trance-like state.
Something inside me recognised the latent power that lay dormant until the moment came to reveal its strength. Like embers waiting for that gust of wind to bring it the oxygen needed to ramp up its flames, so was the sea. Waiting, brooding, ready to pounce.
It was power disguised as calm.
Quietly she pulled back her strength. Steady, without fuss or fight, she held her nerve. Then with one almighty push, she came roaring forth, letting herself go unselfconsciously in her full glorious magnificence.
Hypnotised, I let her energy enter me. The splash and swirl of the water lulled me into a place of deep remembrance. The veil had thinned and I was once again at one with creation.
I was the ocean and she was me.
Omens at sea
After a short rest, we continued our hike. Further along, we stopped to explore the old ruins of castles and war bunkers of a time gone by. Graffitied and crumbling, they spoke stories of war and suffering; richness and privilege.
Death and decay.
Life cycles complete; from something to nothing and back again.
Symbols seemed to be abound- what was the message here?
From the soup of all possibilities comes birth and death hand in hand. The sea births life and takes it away just as fast.
I kept away from the edges, just in case.
Finally, we returned to the nudist-friendly beach that we had visited the day before. Covered with pebbles rather than sand, it wasn’t so popular with the sun lounger crowd, making it just our cup of tea.
Previously we had taken advantage of the freedom to be naked in nature and swam and snorkelled in the clear blue waters.
This time however the water was choppy and uninviting and the wind chilly. Instead, we went to explore a rocky corner, looking for a sheltered place to have lunch. Amid the cold and the drizzle, we ate our sandwiches in silence and listened to the waves.
As we sat, the inner child in me came out to play: let’s have a treasure hunt! This part of the beach was where the sea brought up secrets from her deathly depths- what was there to be discovered?
Pretty shells and pebbles were hidden beneath and between the rocks, all in various shapes and sizes. We found the fossilised shells of sea urchins, worn-out driftwood, crabs legs and many other fun things that pleased the child within.
As we listened and observed, more details began to come forth.
What are all those colourful objects amongst the seaweed close to where the waves were crashing?
We went closer to investigate.
To our disappointment, they were not seahorses or starfish, nor messages in bottles or other mysterious secrets of the sea.
A plastic tampon applicator. A lolly pop stick. A coke bottle. A bottle top. A plastic lighter. A plastic beer pack holder. The plastic dispenser of an olive oil bottle. Fishing nets.
My fairytale was ripped open; my child-like delight ended abruptly.
The more I looked , the plastic I saw.
My brow furrowed as I was confronted with a reality that I didn’t want to face.
This was the last day of our holiday and it shouldn’t be ending like this. We should be swimming naked with the colourful fish and basking in the warmth of the Spanish sun!
Now I know how children feel when they discover Santa isn’t real.
My inner child resisted the scene in front of us and tried to return to its collection of pretty seashells.
But my other half is a stickler for untidiness- at home or abroad. Many times we have gone hiking in the mountains of Madrid and come back with a bag full of rubbish. It seemed like today was not going to be an exception.
He was already going about picking up all of these plastic relics that the sea has brought up to be seen.
So we got to work in the rain and wind and went about collecting as much of the rubbish as possible.
But it wasn’t easy.
The plastic items were so small and wrapped up within the seaweed. It seemed to be never-ending.
But it felt somehow wrong to leave the job half done. We had been enjoying the coastline and the beaches for the last 5 days- to leave all of this plastic felt like using and abusing a lover.
No that just wouldn’t do.
So we continued for an hour or so. A plastic bag we found served as a container and slowly but surely it filled up to the top to the point of overflowing
Every time we thought that one patch was clean, a turn of the seaweed showed us that there was still more to go.
Abundant Trash Treasures
One of the most abundant trash treasures to be had were surprisingly the plastic tampon applicators.
My conscience was pleased that I had recently made the switch to using the moon cup.
But I admit that I have used these types of tampons before- could they possibly have been mine?
The next most common item was the plastic lollipop sticks. Those pesky things were everywhere- it was almost impossible to get every single one.
Which child had been enjoying those, before they made their way to the ocean?
I ate those as a child. Could one of those have been mine?
Next on the list was the plastic dispenser of what I can only assume to have been bottles of oil…
…Judging from the one I have in my house right now anyway. The bottle is glass but the dispenser is plastic- where will this end up?
Finally, the plastic lighters and bottle tops.
Both of which feature in my household right as I write these words.
How has all of this stuff ended up here? I thought.
I suppose the answer is simple: people have put it there.
But not us of course, someone else. Some scoundrel with no morals. Some nasty person that doesn’t respect nature. Some ignorant person that doesn’t understand what they were doing.
Because I would never do that, would I? And I’m sure that you, the reader, wouldn’t either.
Or would we?
Just because our rubbish goes in the bin does that mean that it is taken care of?
And what does ‘taken care of’ really mean?
Dig a hole, fill it in and cover it up- or not
As I was picking up these items, a memory of our stay with Max and Nick on their off-grid finca came to my mind. They lived high up the mountains amongst the olive groves. The drive to their place was spectacular. But if you took a different route you were in for a nasty surprise.
There, in the mountains lies a sight of a different kind.
The local rubbish dump.
This was where the council had authorised the local people to dump their unwanted wares. There you could find all sorts- from fridges to furniture to just general rubbish. It was shocking to see, as you may well agree.
But what is the difference between burying it (in our landfills) and leaving it out like that for all to see?
Out of sight, out of mind.
Is there any difference between being buried in the Earth and being buried at sea?
My last day on the beach was turning out to be a thought-provoking one…and not in a good way.
Eventually, we managed to clean the whole section where we had been sitting plus more. The currents seemed to take all of its contents to be deposited there, away from the main stretch of beach that people usually use, as if trying to be polite and respectful to the holidaying humans.
It seemed amazing to me that previously we hadn’t seen all of this. We had been oblivious to the reality of the beautiful Catalonian coast, remarking about how clean it was.
But here in this neglected corner lurked the hidden truths that we so badly prefer not to think about in our everyday life.
But eventually the truth always comes out, one way or another.
As my mum says, “everything comes out in the wash”.
And indeed it did.
The ocean had tossed it all around in the spin cycle of its currents and spit it back out again.
It really was the day after the night before. The ocean was cleaning her guts of the toxins ingested.
Amongst the tampons applicators and lolly pop sticks we found other curiosities.
One of those was this plastic shell.
It seemed ironic that it had ended up here between the real shells, a poor imitation.
Which poor soul gets to visit the beach so little that they have to resort to collecting plastic shells instead of real ones?
The next find was this nativity scene figurine.
From whose Christmas cracker did this come from? Or whose nativity scene had this little figurine been part of, before it somehow entered the sea and washed up on this beach?
And what would Jesus make of that?
The theme of celebrations continued with our last find:
A Corona beer cap.
Now the sea seemed to be having a laugh at our expense.
You enjoyed the party last night, didn’t you? It seemed to be saying.
Now you have to endure the hangover.
The fact that we were in the Coronavirus pandemic wasn’t lost on me.
Corona– even on the beach we couldn’t get away from it.
Eventually we decided that we had to call it a day and continue on our way back to the campsite.
So what shall we do with all this rubbish? We asked ourselves.
We took it over to the bin and emptied our bag of trash into it.
On one hand, I felt that pleasing sense of satisfaction knowing that I had done my good deed for the day. On the other hand, I felt like an idiot- was all of that rubbish only going to make its way back to the sea at some point?
Let’s save the pats on the back for now.
As we walked back, the sun started to come out. Once again the sky was blue and the sea was clear. It felt as if we had travelled to a distant world and now we were returning once again to the familiar.
But there were little reminders enroute of where we had been.
All along the coast line in various hidden coves and between the rocks was little collections of plastic rubbish: fishing nets, broken pieces of objects long destroyed, cords and strings.
Souvenirs from the party.
When we returned to the little cove where our campsite was, we saw that the sea was now calm and the water once again called us in. Except the little golden beach was now green with a thick layer of seaweed and algae, almost 30 centimetres deep.
Another sign of the night before..
The next day the campsite was emptied of people as everyone returned to the cities and towns for the begining of school. What had been a thriving metropolis of tents, caravans and people, was now a ghost town.
Rather than being covered with children, as it had been for the last 3 months, the beach was still covered with the seaweed and there wasn’t a person in sight.
It seemed curious that the end of the holiday season coincided with the ocean reclaiming her shores. Like a dog shaking off fleas, she sent us all home.
Now back at home in Madrid, with the cold creeping upon us and winter around the corner, the summer feels like a distant memory. Did I imagine it? Like a mirage, it seems to have vanished in the smokescreen of the past.
The shells on my desk are a beautiful reminder.
I look at my plastic recycling bin. This too is a reminder.
Where will the final resting place for these discarded items be, no longer useful after their first and only use? Will they really be recycled? Or will they be shipped off to some other country to be ‘taken care of’ and from there who knows?
And with Christmas almost upon us, I wonder how many little plastic Nativity figurines will be sold? And once no longer needed where will they end up? In the Earth or the Sea?
And the little Christmas cracker toys, made in China and shipped across the globe? After their 15 minutes of glory around the Christmas dinner table, what will happen to them?
This year Corona restrictions mean I won’t be going home for Christmas…
Now the word plays in mind mixed with images of the washed-up beer cap.
Spanish for Crown.
Will the Earth once again become queen and take back her rightful place in the centre of our hearts, minds, culture and society?
Returning to the original question: if the sea could speak, what would be her language?
The same language of the earth, only she has shells instead of stones and sand instead of soil.
But both speak to us in symbols, omens, metaphor, and simile.
But we have to have eyes to see and ears to hear.
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