Memories of 2021 Coastal CleanUp Day
September 19, 2021
It’s 558am, and it’s the day after the 2021 Coastal Clean Up Day. It’s a symbolic day where the community is invited to come together to pick up trash and plastic pollution to help the oceans. I organized a work group to clean up on the bayside of the southern part of San Diego Bay at the Chula Vista Boating Launch Ramp. It was a long process that included sending emails to our department, posting on our MD Facebook group. I figured out how to use sign-up genius, and posted during our differerent work presentation reminders. I considered different areas to clean and texted RN Plastic Picker about advice about where to clean. I drove to two different areas to scope out which areas would be the most approrpriate and settled upon an area in the South County where I grew up, that had plenty of plastic pollution at a scenic walkway. I exchanged emails and text messages with various people. Mr. Plastic Picker and I went to the grocery store Friday night late, after a long day of work to get supplies and snacks for the event. My father-in-law happily agreed to come with me to help set up, mostly to put up our tent that we needed. RN Plastic Picker convinced her tween daughter to come, and another nursing manager came. We arrived at 740am right on time, and quickly set up in about 20 minutes. We didn’t leave until about 1130am, so a good four hours of our time. About 15 people of various ages came with their family and I’ve detailed the beauty of the day on different facebook pages and there are plenty of wonderful pictures of the day. This is one I’ll always remember, because I feel like I found this tree and I got to help clean around her roots and tell a child that I love that I found it for her and she should sit on it.
The actual amount of trash that we gathered was respectable. Here is what it looked like, and given the wind conditions – I know that it would have all gone into the ocean.
Was it worth it? Was it worth all that time? I’m sitting here and it’s 608am now and it’s still dark and I can’t go out by myself to the beach to clean just yet. It’s too dark. But the memories of yesterday and everything that led up to yesterday are washing over me, and every moment was worth it. Every part of the efforts that led to yesterday were worth it. There were so many moments throughout the entire process that I will never forget. I’m closing my eyes again and letting it wash over me. I get kind of choked up when I think about it.
It started because RN Plastic Picker wanted to have a department event. In the end it was a very small event and not many in our department showed. But we got to be together and to chat and talk, and do what we do best – be part of our community and share this love of our location and the earth together. I got to see her daughter with her friend, and thanked them for picking up 38 cigarette butts and offered them fruit. We saw some charcoal that had been poured at the base of the tree above, and I wondered aloud with RN Plastic Picker’s daughter if those charcoal “waste” was compostable. I googled on my phone and it is, but better yet I’m going to try to use it on the guerilla gardening project I have on the planters at our HMO clinic building. If I crush the charcoal it is a pest deterent. And there is a planter that I had to abandom due to all the pests. I’m going to upcycle that charcoal.
Then when I posted the social media ads that needed the sign ups, this prompted me to learn signup genius. And this helped me do the same for the HMO Green Team signups. So I did both. This all happened at the same time we were giving our climate and health presentations, so given how popular our talk was – the sign up genius link especially to the Green Team list was very helpful.
And then I took some of an afternoon off I had and also a Saturday morning to scope out two potential areas to do a clean up. One was off old Sea World Drive and it was too dangerous for kids, but ended up being a really interesting area that I want to come back to as there are snowy egrets right there. It’s this beautiful place that is beside an area I drive by all the time, and I never noticed it before. I don’t think most people notice it. I have seen snowy egrets off Tourmaline where I clean at that stretch of beach I have cleaned hundreds of time. But I had not realized that those same snowy egrets are in the marshlands just a bit further inland near the bay. They are such beautiful birds, tall and graceful. They remind me of my husband, Mr Plastic Picker. I think they are his spirit animal.
The other afternoon when I settled upon the Chula Vista Boating Launch ramp, I walked all the way around from the J Street Marina to the Boating Ramp – and I had never walked that area before. I think I’m a local girl, but I had never walked that path. I was on the lookout for a good place to find plastic for this event, to make it worthwhile for everyone who came out. The J Street Marina was so clean that initially I almost gave up. But then I spotted all the litter at the field as I rounded the corner from the Marina to the area where the Boat Launching Ramp is. It ended up another litter-picking group cleaned that field and they did an amazing job. We worked the parking lot and the walkway along the bayside of the area. But that was an adventure, and I talked to some interesting characters at the end of the J Street Marina about litter and politics and their distain of the liberals in San Francisco. As someone who has had run-ins with said angry liberals in San Francisco (I’m a liberal but not from San Francisco), I kind of chuckled and had a laugh with RN Plastic Picker when I retold her this story.
The Friday night before the event, Mr. Plastic Picker and I went to Vons in Pacific Beach to get the supplies for the outing. No one ended up eating that much, but I wanted to make sure I provided water and healthy snacks. Each child that came, I ended up giving them an entire bag of clementines and I ended up eating most of the fancy cookies that RN Plastic Picker brought. They were very fancy and I appreciated them. My father in law ate two of the bananas, and we brought the peels home to compost. We reused the fancy table covering I have for parties so we didn’t need to buy one of the those plastic table covers, and I reused this plastic disposable food tray that we’ve had at the top of the pantry for years. Then I recycled it when we got home. All around the picnic table where we were set up, I cleaned all the cigarette butts and bottle caps and I couldn’t believe that the area was so beautiful and clean afterwards. I climbed into the rocks a few feet from the walkway, and fished a lot of the litter and old bits of styrofoam that will never decay. I didn’t see many birds around that area other than seagulls, and I’m hoping all the plastic we removed from the environment will make a difference and the other shorebirds will come back. It was so beautiful there, but it wasn’t wild. I want to rewild the world for our children.
I talked about this event. I talked about it with RN Plastic Picker, with my co-founder for San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air, with the grocery cashier at Vons (which was a funny moment when he asked me if I was buying the garbage bags for doordash and I said – No! It’s for the coastal clean up!. Mr. Plastic Picker poked me in my side to get me moving down the check-out line because the man behind us in line had been waiting for a bit as I was chatting. But I told my husband, I was having an authentic moment with the cashier!). I talked about this with my father-in-law, who himself had a wonderful day when he helped set up the tent. But then we forgot the actual fabric part, and we were standing below what was essentially a chuppah. It was a funny moment and we just laughed. My father-in-law picked up a good sized bag and he said someone told him thank you.
And that was the most people part. Everyone who came yesterday, they received so many thank yous. Thank yous from me. Thank yous from passerbyers and neighbros. The Assistant Chief of Psychiatry was wandering around the parking lot and cleaning below the lo-riders, and that was such a fun group to see and witness as they had a gathering. The Pediatric Nursing Clinical Supervisor from the North Country who would never venture into this are usually, chatted with a passerby who had a very large dog – that was so sweet sitting with it’s owner. They wandered away and were talking, two strangers just connected with a neighborhly chat because when you are picking up litter and trying to help the earth – people see you as approachable. And the kids. Mostly thank you to the children that came. Their beautiful little faces, as they saw adults and their own parents doing something good. Our kids are watching us and seeing what we are doing. They learn by example.
Yesterday and the entire process that led up to yesterday was filled with moments and memories of large squirrels, chance comments, cool breezes, chance impressions, and moments. And it is these moments that make one pause, and activate people to make that next step. It was a moment and hundreds of moments like that I’ve had on the beach, that led me onto this crazy path. So we picked up plastic and helped the earth, and I am awash in the memories of it all.