The beach has a special magic for people born, as I was, in the middle of the country. We had lakes and rivers galore, but hardly anything so vast that you couldn’t see the opposite shore. No tides, no shells, no gulls. I had seen the real thing in the movies and on TV, and I knew there was something better out there.

When I finally saw my first ocean, it was the Atlantic. I lived on the Jersey shore for two years and it was okay. At night, you could see the lights of Manhattan and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It was pretty, but too urban.

Later, we moved to Ft. Lauderdale. There was a wonderful beach at Dania State Park, but it was hemmed in on all sides by monolithic concrete condos. Way too urban!

My husband and I first saw the Peninsula almost 20 years ago and it was love at first sight. Endless miles of sand in both directions and no big clunky concrete anythings spoiling the dunes! We’d finally found our beach.

I’d always called it “going to the beach,” but what I meant was I was going to watch the ocean and scavenge anything interesting that washed up. The beach was what I ran across to get to the ocean, and the only things I picked up were found treasure to take home.

Now we get to the confession part. The first couple of years we came out here as tourists, I buried my cigarette butts in the sand. I did that because I knew they were ugly and people didn’t want to see them. I don’t know what I thought would happen to them under the sand — I’d known since I was a teenager that you don’t clean up a mess by hiding it, but that’s what I did. Eventually, I learned to extinguish them in the sand and store the remains in the cellophane wrapper that comes around every pack. It’s better for all concerned, especially innocent wildlife who will eat said butts, and die with them clogging their digestive tracts. Mea culpa.

While we were still tourists, we liked to come down here for the Fourth of July and build a big bonfire on the beach. I hit on the bright idea of burning all the empty firework containers in the fire. That works as long as you’re certain they’re empty. Just about any kind of firework will come flaming out of the fire unless you’re careful. We weren’t, but we were lucky enough to not be hit by any of the fiery missiles.

Other members of our party decided empty bottles and cans should go into the fire too. I went along with it, but I’m at a loss to excuse it. I knew darn well glass and aluminum didn’t burn at home and that there was no rational reason to believe they would be reduced to harmless ashes on the beach. They aren’t — the aluminum becomes unrecyclable and retains heat for hours. The glass usually shatters, leaving lots of little sharp shards to lie in wait for unwary feet and tires. We’d have done better just leaving the whole mess for someone brighter to clean up.

Seven years ago we moved to Ocean Park and joined the Grassroots Garbage Gang, a group of wonderful people doing amazing things with the available resources. 

I have one more confession to make. The very first time we went on a beach cleanup, we supplied our own bags. I went out and bought a big box of trash bags, and we filled two of them. Admittedly, there was a blinding sleet storm at the time, but I somehow lost the box with 18 full-sized garbage bags in it. Plastic is the most prevalent and toxic waste on the beach. It’s dangerous to the ecosystem as a whole, and practically indestructible. Believe me, I squirm as I write this. I really was trying to help.

It isn’t all sleet storms and embarrassing mistakes though. There are all kinds of useful and ornamental things around our house that were pulled from the surf. A whole section of our wood fence is covered with Styrofoam floats of all colors and sizes. We’ve found eight of the coveted glass floats, and a sun-bleached $20 bill. You never know what might be down there.

If you would like to help us out, please don’t bury garbage on the beach, don’t try to burn things that are dangerous or unburnable, and don’t add to the mess of plastic already blowing around down there. If I can clean up my act, you can too!

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