I’ve been going to the ocean to pick up trash for several months now, and it has always seemed fairly straightforward, until my last trip.
I had only picked up a few pieces of plastic when I came to an item that had gooseneck barnacles on it. Dozens of them. And they were still alive.
I thought about my choices for a moment. I could remove the plastic item from the beach, where it surely didn’t belong – or I could leave it, which would mean the barnacles might survive another few hours, or days, or whatever. If I removed it, though, they would surely be dead within a few hours.
I left it there, because I just could not bring myself to take them off the beach, but it bothered me. I didn’t want to cause offense to the deities I was doing the work for, after all, and I’d never before had this kind of conflict between taking away what shouldn’t be in the ocean, and leaving what belonged.
So I went down the beach and it seemed like every single bit of plastic (and some non-plastic items) had at least one barnacle attached to it. Pen cap? Yes indeed, one lone barnacle at home in the open end.
I picked up some of the smaller items, but that didn’t feel right either, so finally I decided I’d about reached the point I had intended to make an offering from anyway, and I’d ask what to do – remove the plastic, or leave the barnacles alone? – after I made my offering.
So I explained my dilemma, and said that I was going to walk back on shore a bit and do some divination to get an answer.
It came up in favor of leaving the barnacles alone. Which I was happy about, because even if the answer had come up clearly the other way, I would have felt sad for them.
So I removed the items I had collected with barnacles on them, and placed them down on some damp sand, and went on – farther from the water, because there were far fewer inhabited items on drier sand.
It was while I was heading back that I found the dead bird.
I don’t know what species it was. Possibly a gull; it looked like it had quite long wings for its size, but there was little left of it beyond its feathered wings and the breastbone.
It had three zipties fastened around one wing, which, after some processing, I decided to carefully remove. It seemed like that was important and necessary to do, before saying a few words over the bird and pouring out some water. (I hadn’t prepared for handling anything like this, so I didn’t bring anything that might have been a more appropriate offering.)
I realize that the zip ties were probably part of some study of bird movement, but when I think about the way animals are tagged, all I can think is that even if it doesn’t interfere with their movement, it must surely be a constant annoyance of some kind. The bird could not have properly preened the feathers trapped under the ties, and while of course I don’t know what it really feels like, I can’t help but think it must have just felt wrong and possibly distressing, and that removal of that in death was the very least I could do for it. And my priority was not, at all, to see that some scientific study got every bit of data possible.