On the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State the beaches are varied and beautiful at any time of year. Early March the beaches just north of Kalaloch were also sparsely visited, making for expansive strolls lengthened by lots of warm clothing.

I wasn’t surprised to see some plastic bits in the surf and further up the beach. Plastic is forever, right? Well, yes and no. While it can stay intact for decades and is responsible for a swirling mass in the ocean worthy of a good cry, I learned last year the damage doesn’t stop there.

It does break down, but is toxic even at the molecular level. I’m not sure whether my brain wraps more easily around immediate danger to today’s sea-dwellers or around long-run toxins in our foods and scary changes in ocean ecology and climate. It just seemed a fine thing to do to pick up some of the larger pieces, and soon my hands were full.

Beach walk number 2: Up to Beach 4 (did they run out of names?). This time I came equipped with a bag. This beach looks pristine and very interesting. Up closer, however, I see lengths of rope, the cheap yellow polypro you can get anywhere, as well as green, black, and red. Some half buried, and too much for my little bag. But my husband is joining in, and this is as much fun as any other beach combing I’ve done looking for agates. Truly. I’m not going all Tom Sawyer’s fence on you.

Beach walk number 3: Ruby Beach. Gorgeous rock towers off shore, remnants of the headlands that once were. This time a little stronger larger breadbag. When they collect our garbage, our cabin housekeepers are going to wonder what we’ve been up to.

We collected a diabolical wad of filament with hooks, and some larger and smaller plastic fragments in a rainbow of colors. I seem to remember someone in the Beachwatchers organization saying that blue is the worst, or maybe it was the most plentiful as least likely to have been mistaken for food and ingested. I could brush up on it, but not right now.

This was plenty absorbing, just the spotting and picking up. And for meeting people this was like walking a dog. A man took notice of our haul and chatted with us about it. The long bread bag filled up to bursting. Is this coming from ship cast-offs? Some items seem like beach party detritis, but not most of it. Most of it is faded, the broken edges starting to round, been in the sea for awhile.

There seems no need to think deeply about all this. I’m content with our catch. But my aching back over the next days, whew. Next time? I’m bringing one of those long-handled reacher-grabbers!

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