Catch-22 or the Starfish Story? A Trashy Tale

First of all, my northwestern friends–yes, I KNOW “seastars are not fish.” But most folks know that sweet story of the guy saving stranded seastars by tossing them back into the ocean, and in that story they’re “starfish.”

That story’s moral: in the face of huge, inexorable challeng, making tiny, individual change is still worthwhile.

I THINK this is that kind of story. Although for a while there, it felt more like the penultimate chapter of Catch-22. (Spoiler alert: if you’re intending to read Catch-22 and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, you should stop reading my blog right now.)

The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a large mass of debris floating near the rocky edges of Iceberg Point, part of the San Juan National Monument which I’m grateful to call my big backyard. I contacted our wonderful Monument and BLM people and hoped for the best.

Days passed, and still the debris floated. But you could see it was degrading into bits.

After a week, the large chunks disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “they’re someone else’s problem now. But somebody oughta get that small stuff.” Then…”Hey! Great excuse for a paddle excursion!”

I had it all planned: net, garbage bags, wetsuit, gloves, tide chart. Then the smoke from the west coast wildfires sent our air quality numbers up near 200 and our ocean under a thick blanket of scary-looking, cold smog. (Think “The Nothing” from Neverending Story.)

By the time the skies and my calendar cleared, another week had passed. But finally, FINALLY, I was on my way. Oh, that felt good.

Here I come to save the day!

Up close, I found that the barbage gyre was–of course–styrofoam, and most of it had–of course–already crumbled into those tiny, hellish bits. Actually, MOST of it was probably already in the bellies of marine life testing the flavor of those white things. That thought spurred me through the messy task of circling and scooping the gyre.

Yesss!!!

After about 25 minutes, I had all I could gather (not to mention fit into the trash bag stuffed between my knees). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Then I looked toward the shore.

Uh-oh.

Here’s where Catch-22 came in. See, through 30 chapters, we have Yossarian wrestling with flashbacks, hinting at the scene behind his PTSD. Not till the second-to-last chapter do we see the scene in full: Yossarian in mid-flight, trying to save the life of his bombardier Snowden, binding Snowden’s leg wound and comforting him as he whimpers. Only when Yossarian’s first-aid task is complete does he discover…he’s treating the wrong wound. The real injury, the one that’s killing Snowden, is deep, internal, and entirely beyond Yossarian’s ability to cure.

Those big chunks of marine garbage? They weren’t gone. They were just lodged in a cove, slowly breaking into more and more horrible bits for idiots like me to scoop.

Shit.

There was nothing I could do in my weenie little boat. To salvage some sense of accomplishment, I balanced one floating chunk on my prow and paddled home, deflated.

You’re not the boss of me, garbage.

But! Let’s get back to the starfishy side of things, shall we? I happen to live on an island whose unofficial motto is, “Come For the Scenery, Stay For the Community.” (OK, that’s my PERSONAL motto; I don’t think anyone else says that. But they could.)

I got back on the email. Two days later, I and my BLM friend had organized a small crew to go after that cove-garbage from the land. Our most intrepid member, Mike, donned a drysuit and went after the junk from the water.

Waiting for Mike to get his drysuit on, and feeling grateful not to be Mike.

Most chunks had to be hauled with ropes. I got the smaller bits, like this sail.

I can’t even tell you how satisfying that work was. Well–maybe I just did.

Hey, anyone missing a large sailboat?

Next day, true autumn weather moved in and the sea turned nasty (but beautiful–like a Nasty Woman). We knew we’d acted just in time to prevent the total disintegration of that garbage pile.

We also knew, in the grand scheme of our poor ocean, what a minescule gesture our work had been. You don’t need me to tell you that either. The wound is deep, internal, and possibly even beyond our ability to cure.

But, like the rescued seastar–our work made a difference to that place. And to us. Nothing like a tiny dose of action, in the face of global pandemic and potlitical instability, to make you breathe a little deeper.

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