You know those slightly dotty-seeming ladies who tote Publix bags along as they walk the beach, picking up litter? Yep. That would be me.
Here is how this happens to you: Whenever you are lucky enough to be somewhere that you can take early morning walks by the waves, you find yourself picking up plastic — left-behind water bottles, mostly — because you cannot stand the thought of this trash ending up in the gulf.
After a couple of trips juggling this junk to the garbage can, you start bringing a bag.
You may even find yourself developing your own bag-lady policies. Paper and cans I leave. (I'd need a second bag.) Abandoned beach buckets and shovels? Recycled in my back yard for use by a small and busy nephew, out of the way of nesting sea turtles and shorebirds and no threat to the aforementioned gulf.
The other day I walked out on the beach to find lying on the fine white sand not one, but two, dirty disposable diapers. The troglodytes who could not find a way to deposit these in the public garbage can a few yards away had at least managed to tape them shut. Like a hundred other plastic bag ladies on a hundred other beaches, I walk along saying to myself: What is wrong with people?
But then I always get caught up in all that's out there, this moonscape of a beach that changes daily, especially if you are early enough that the sand is still night-cool under your feet and the crowds still home stuffing their coolers full of Bud Light.
Every walk seems of a theme: The waves offer up jellyfish or sea urchins or slimy green grasses. Rays glide by in shallow water, tarpon roll not far out and slick gray dolphins feast offshore with great enthusiasm. Once on a walk, I found a small glass angel put out to sea to remember someone who died. (I knew because of a note tucked inside.) On the beach, this made perfect sense.
Not long ago I saw something I hadn't in a lifetime of walking beaches. Midday, here came a graceful black snake — a snake! — gliding purposefully along the sand. I saw another in the dunes. Snakes on a plane? I had snakes on a beach.
Then I'm thinking, of course there are snakes, and mice and crabs and raccoons and all that make up an ecosystem, stuff rarely seen by most of us as we plant our umbrellas and smear on sunscreen and crank up boom boxes. These things are below our surface, hidden and very much alive, which is sort of the cool thing about the beach in general.
Out in the water not long ago a man caught a hammerhead shark so huge it was a record. He killed it, not to feed his family or to use all of its various parts, but because it was big, and maybe because it made him feel that way, too. Another thing to shake my head and mutter about as I walk.
I think about another beach where not long ago they talked of banning smoking and have mixed feelings on this: After all, beaches are all about personal freedom, to wear skimpy Speedos or throw Frisbees or whatever it is you do to relax. But I look down and think: I would not miss the butts.
The water is not quite summer warm on my ankles, and I think about how in Tallahassee they talked of drilling for oil too close to shore, talk that thankfully has died, for now. I resist the urge to mutter again. It's too pretty out, and I'm too lucky to be here, even if at the end of the walk my bag is always full.