Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

by Robert T. Nanninga


went to church last weekend. Now before any of you say "Oh, no, Bob has found religion," let me assure you this was not your run of the mill, "everyone face forward and listen to the man speak" sort of church. Although my place of worship offered the standard genuflecting, soul searching and stained glass, it was of a higher purpose. Not being one to find faith behind four walls, I none the less found a magical place that was a shrine, a temple, a holy place and retreat all rolled into one. I went to the coastal cathedral. I went to the beach.

I am one of those people who enjoy wide open spaces. Looking out at the ocean, I totally understand why surf culture has adopted the word 'awesome' as the ultimate sign of acknowledgment. The Pacific Ocean, in all her El Niño Fury, is indeed awe inspiring. My time of worship here is not passive, it is service based. Instead of pews, there are cobbles. Instead of picking up hymnals, I pick up garbage. The stained glass comes in the form of beer bottles.

The only sin present is the refuse littering the beach. Is this is how Californians show their gratitude? Americans decry anti-Semitic graffiti on synagogues, and the burning of black churches, yet they turn their collective heads when the most sacred of spaces, the earth, is defiled. Could it be that humans believe that anything man-made deserves protection, and natural spaces do not? Our coast has become a collection plate, and what we are offering is trash lots of it.

Four years ago I wrote a column entitled "The Last Straw." Sadly, nothing has changed except the calendar date. On the hundred yards of South Carlsbad Beach I claim as my parish, plastic still represents the majority of the litter. Straws by the thousands most notable the red and yellow striped McDonalds variety are everywhere. Adding to the eclectic mix of the thoughtlessly discarded were plastic douche bottles, syringes, rubber balls, knotted balls of fishing line and single shoes. Every time I picked up a plastic baggy I offered a prayer of thanks that this action would reduce the risk of an endangered sea turtle mistakenly thinking this was dinner, only to later die of starvation because of the ingested plastic. Also retrieved from the beach that morning were oil bottles, milk jugs, tampon applicators and, in varying sizes, the proverbial Styrofoam chunk.


There are three reasons why I do this. First, and most obviously, someone has got to do it. Second, this is time of the year when the beaches need it the most. And finally, no people. O.K., some people, but not the 'lets lay here until we get cancer' sort of people. You know the type: lounging around with a cigarette in one hand and a Pepsi Big Gulp in the other, listening to music at a volume designed to drown out the ocean. Joining my partner and I on the beach that morning were charming couples strolling along enjoying the view. The trick is not to look down.

Never one to give up the chance to be a goodwill ambassador for Southern California, I struck up a conversation with passersby. The first couple I spoke to was from Iowa. They said how lovely the coast was, and they were glad it had stopped raining. I replied that this was the best time of year because the rain had washed all the smog from the sky. They also commented the area was not what they expected, too crowded. I agreed. The second couple was from Colorado. The gentleman actually picked up some garbage. A very nice gesture. They commented on all the garbage on the beach, and the lack of sand and then asked where they could get a good breakfast overlooking the ocean. I suggested KI's and off they went. Before leaving, I spoke with a man from Palos Verde. He reminisced about his childhood memories of camping here 30 years ago. He too asked where all the sand went. I explained that development and jetties were responsible. Like the others, he went away disappointed.

Why am I telling you this? Simple. This is a not-so-subtle reminder that our beaches are not just for locals. And, if we are going to keep the tourists coming, we must offer them more than coastal crowding and polluted beaches. A clean coast is our bread and butter. Without it, we would go hungry. Our community was shaped by the tides, as any surfer can tell you. Now it is time to give back. If every beach-goer and surfer would pick up one grocery bag worth of trash before they left, our beaches would be clean.

Beach cleaning is a ritual that is based in service, consideration and respect for natural beauty. Every time I bend down to pick up a straw I am saying a physical prayer. These prayers also serve as wishes that others will join me in this atonement for mankind's wicked ways. See you at the beach... and bring gloves.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and an active member of the Green and environmental communities. His writings appear weekly in the Coast Times