IT WAS DAYLIGHT in the swamp.
Something had gone terribly wrong. There was an ominous silence with no reassuring splatter of rain drops hitting the roof.
Searching for answers I looked out the window and noticed an unnatural brightness in the sky that seemed to intensify with each passing moment.
Suddenly, a blinding bright light burst out of the eastern horizon.
It was the sun.
You tend to forget about the sun after a couple of months of monsoons. But there it was, a sunny day after months of winter storms.
In the old days that meant one thing. It was time to go to the beach and look for glass balls.
These shiny relics of the Asian fishing fleets used to wash up on our shores in great numbers just waiting for the lucky beachcomber to find them.
That was then. This is now. Things have changed.
For one thing there are people at the beach these days.
Encountering these citified beach explorers can be a terrifying experience.
Olympic National Park rules for its scenic coastal section require dogs to be on a leash no more than six feet long.
Meanwhile, small children are allowed to wander freely. A leash law for children might seem cruel and unusual until you watch a toddler barely able to walk in their oversized rubber boots stumble toward the surf while their unsuspecting parents are busy off in the distance attending to the sanitary requirements of their bathroom-challenged animal companion.
These same parents, who would never allow their children to walk out into a busy freeway, think nothing of letting the kids wander into the surf with its freak waves and sucking undertows.
Experienced beachcombers only go to the beach at an outgoing tide to avoid the dreadful experience of being drug out to sea by an undertow or pounded into the beach logs by sneaker waves.
Modern beachgoers seem to have a total disregard for these concerns.
Hoping to avoid a potential tragedy we continued down the beach where a beachcombing treasure lay hidden in the drift wood. There were no glass balls.
There was, however, a dizzying array of plastic of every size and description.
According to the good folks at the American Chemistry Council, we manufacture around 35.4 million tons of plastic every year in the U.S. alone.
Meanwhile worldwide, we dump billions of pounds of plastic in the ocean every year. Where it forms gigantic floating islands that decay and are eventually absorbed into the pelagic food chain.
Unlike the glass balls which seem to be increasingly hard to find, plastic is hard to miss. And there is no danger of us ever running out of plastic because they are constantly making more.
Plastic is the wave of the future. It’s everywhere we want to be.
Where the surf hits the shore a glittering array of tiny plastics awaits the modern beachcomber.
These miniature plastic pieces shine like little colored diamonds in the sand.
It’s no wonder fish and other marine life just love to eat pieces of plastic, mistaking them for food.
The further from the surf you go, the bigger the plastic gets.
You can find everything from boots to barrels.
Sometimes it’s fun to think of where all that plastic came from.
It really makes you think it’s a small world after all.
Picking up plastic may not be as cool as finding glass balls but it’s all we’ve got left.
So, let’s all enjoy our wild Pacific coast, where our motto is come for the view but stay for the plastic.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild firstname.lastname@example.org.