I just returned from a seaside vacation, where the leisure-time activities included swimming, hiking, and being environmentally incorrect.
On the very first day at our rented seashore home, I unpacked the cooler we had brought to the beach – and without even thinking about it I began to toss empty Diet Coke cans into the trash. In my real life I am a fairly rabid recycler and would never dream of doing this, but on that day, I did it casually and instinctively, egged on by a small voice in my head that whined, “You’re on vacation – give yourself a break.” As small voices go, this one was relatively benign – it’s not like it was telling me to hold up a convenience store, or wear white after Labor Day. But I was shocked at how quickly and easily I could put my values aside just because I was temporarily away from home. Are my beliefs really that lightly held, that disposable? Apparently so.
In my defense, this was my first real vacation in two years. It’s been kind of a difficult time, what with career changes, mid-life crises, and hauling my daughter cross-country to look at colleges. Faced with a cooler full of sandy cans, a childish and petulant part of my character took over, stomping its feet and insisting that I shouldn’t have to do anything that resembled drudgery – even something as non-taxing as recycling some beverage containers.
Feeling a slight but lingering shame, I went on with my vacation and returned to the beach the next day. My family always looks for seals near the shore line – most times without success – but they were out in record numbers that day, coming closer to the beach than we’d ever seen them. Clownish, whiskered and incredibly sweet-looking, they dove in and out of the water, doing the sidestroke and goofing around. One in particular came right up to the shore and looked me straight in the face for an eerily long time. We bonded. We made crazy cross-species eye contact and in that moment I felt mystically (some would say obsessively) connected to that seal. I named him Frank.
Clearly he was not just a seal – he was nature’s perfect lobbyist and he quickly had me rethinking my lazy, selfish ways. As I stood at the shore, I vaguely remembered reading that ocean litter was largely made up of beverage containers. I cringed then, thinking about the cans I hadn’t recycled, and made a fierce and somewhat crackpot vow to improve my eco efforts.
I spent the rest of the day guarding the shore, giving dirty looks to anyone who looked like they might be on the verge of littering. “Don’t even think about it,” I hissed to a little boy who had the glazed, anxious look of a child who’s about to pee in the ocean. For me, there would be no more throwing out soda cans; I was newly committed to a pristine planet. I was making the world a better place”¦for Frank.
My daughter seemed surprised (and a little annoyed) that neither she nor her brother had ever inspired me with that kind of environmental zeal. This was an excellent point, and one that I deftly sidestepped but could not ultimately explain.
Except to say that Frank was one hell of a cute seal.