Caring for and Healing the Earth

Philosophy of Caretaking

The Bag

John Wall

        During one of my lunch-hour liberations I was down by San Francisco Bay with a pair of binoculars, checking out the peregrine falcons who use the girders of the Bay Bridge for perching sites. We were getting intermittent storms and the wind was strong, coming out of the west, blowing whitecaps in the bay, and giving a twitchy character to the flight of pigeons and gulls as they flew within its power.
        I heard a soft scraping sound to my left and looked to see a plastic grocery bag also flying in the wind's power and turning in a small upward spiral. It rose a few feet, then glided smoothly behind me. I expected to feel its thwack against the back of my head at any second. Instead it thwacked a few feet away from me into the railing I was leaning against, down at about shin-level.
        I watched the bag struggle to get past the barrier of the railing's thin metal bars. It had caught a bar almost exactly at its mid-point, though, and wasn't going to go any farther unless the wind twitched and gave the bag a chance to get a new angle. The bag was just a few feet away, but I made no move to grab it. I figured it would blow through the bars and into the bay any second.
        The bay is a very dirty place. Lots of freighter traffic and recreational boats, all sorts of industrial waste, and agricultural and urban runoff draining toxins into it. Yet I commonly see pelicans and terns dive-bombing for fish in it, or cormorants and sea lions diving into its depths and coming up with fish in their mouths. So there's still some life in the old bay.
        Still, I thought, it's just one more bag in a dirty bay where I've seen many bags just like this one float by like jellyfish on the flowing tides. I turned to leave with the bag still fluttering like mad at the railing.
        Then a thought popped into my head: that the specific bag fluttering a few feet away from me could go out and kill a specific bird out there in the bay, and a specific person -- me -- could actually do something about that. I reached down and plucked the bag from the railing, dropped it in a nearby trash container, and headed into the wind, back to work.


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