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On the Beach

Island Life

I don’t recall if I ever saw that end-of-the-world, nuclear apocalypse film, On the Beach, a second time in ensuing years after having viewed it when it first came out way back in the ancient times of my impressionable youth. What sticks with me, image wise, is the guy closing his garage doors and climbing into his racer sports car which is up on blocks, and gunning the engine in order to fill the closed space with exhaust and carbon monoxide so he can "go out" on his own terms instead of succumbing to the cloud of nuclear war produced radiation that is circling the globe and taking lives, pretty much all lives, with no remorse, as clouds of that sort are wont to do. The other happy thought that remains from that film is the view from a submarine conning tower as the crew, who has escaped nuclear death by being underwater (and perhaps having contributed a few button push launches to the human demise- I don’t remember), sails into a port city to find no one left alive. It is easy to see why I haven’t had On the Beach high up on my replay list. But it is also interesting to note that in spite of its message from some 40 years ago, we are still killing ourselves with automobile exhaust and, perhaps sadder still, that we are still holding the "nuclear option" in our collective hands, with the equivalent of the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal sitting just a few miles from our Island doorsteps over on the Hood Canal.

It is also interesting to note, that even with all the extensive security surrounding the Bangor Base, it is still under attack, as are all of us along the salty seashore- everywhere. This realization came to roost with me a couple of years back when my out-of-town sister and brother-in-law paid a visit and we journeyed to the Olympics and the coast. A walk along Ruby Beach both invigorated me and buried me in a funk of doom. There was the usual driftwood and killer logs and sea spray and the occasional sea creature post mortem specimen. And there were the usual clusters of castaway, manmade detritus that unfortunately finds their way even into the most pristine of places. But what really got to me was the meandering, confetti-like tide line display of a rainbow spectrum of small plastic bits that I had never noticed before. What my brain began to do with this observation was to extrapolate the reality, which in this situation was not necessarily a good thing. While I had, since I’d first heard about it, imagined the great Pacific gyre, or garbage patch, slowly turning mostly way out of sight and maintaining whole pieces of this or that in its wasteland collective. What my brain was now doing was rotating and jostling this aquatic plastic galaxy and generating an infinite quantity of colorful, minute fragments that were being spun off and going forth to decorate beaches and line the stomachs of whatever sea creature happened along with the expectation that whatever is floating there is edible and good for you. One can get a real life view of how this turns out for some creatures by viewing the sea birds of Midway Island photographs of Seattle photographer Chris Jordan-

As many Island conversations go, it’s hard to remember how one got on a certain subject, and this is the case with a chance discussion I had with Eric Nelsen. We have been friends since the early eighties when I was first invited to participate in one of his multi-day kiln firings. Having studied ceramics in Japan, Eric had brought home the desire to do wood firings of his ceramic pieces and set out to build a hillside clay cooker that required steady vigilance around the clock to maintain the correct firing temperature. Being on one of the crews was a bit like being a stoker on a railroad steam engine or paddle wheel boat, without the thrill of going anywhere. There was the fire, however, and the satisfaction and surprise of being there when the kiln was opened and the patina of one’s stoking diligence shone on each individual piece. It was a surprise then, when I learned that Eric had taking a slight turn, and while not abandoning the call of the clay, was now actively collecting aquatic garbage patch debris from area beaches with the intent of creating something, beautiful or otherwise, from the dissembled plastic bits serving as evidence of our civilization as they manifest themselves