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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

On the Beach

Air Date: Week of

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Life’s changes can sometimes leave a person searching for direction. Commentator Bethany Ericson has taken to the beach to look for answers.


CURWOOD: Sudden unemployment can be a jolting experience. But on the beaches of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Bethany Ericson found that the extra time can help keep one grounded.

ERICSON: I’m on the dole, keeping my schedule to low-tide in the oldest commercial fishing port in the country. Once a commuting executive, I now find myself collecting shells, glass and pottery shards that wash in from the depths. I feel certain that I can find direction in the discarded junk on the beach, if I can only learn to decipher its messages, examine all that is cast aside, and piece it into something new.

So this is my mission: rain or shine, I simply walk, head bent in the early morning, smelling cigarette smoke and frying food from the fish factory as the ocean breathes at the edge of the shore. I’ve looked up to find a swan three feet away from me, watched herring gulls perforate sea skates, and been lectured by a six year old on glass eels.

All the while, I perused the pebbles. I sort through all the garbage in my head until I see the individual items making up the beach. As I walk, I find sea stars, bits of turn-of-the-century ceramics, waving arms of lost porcelain dolls, sea-worn marbles. I try and see patterns in the chaos of debris washing in. I imagine tragic storms, shipwrecks with lost treasure.

The job listings shrivel and fade. And it’s clear I need to reinvent myself. On the docks, I watch kids fish for stripers with line wound tightly around Goya cans. I tell myself that reconstruction requires persistence and patience.

I remember a story I wrote as a kid about a man who mysteriously showed up on the sands of the beach in a starving town. As he arrived, so did an influx of scuttling crabs and lobsters, spurting clams and waves thick with fish. The townspeople feared this outsider would take their food, and threw him off a cliff. In the distance, a giant silver fishtail flipped once and disappeared.

But no one questions my presence on the beach. I’m welcomed in to eat eggs and cod cakes with the fishermen, as the coffee shop softball team argues over a game of bridge. I figure, we’re all fishing for something, one way or another.

CURWOOD: Bethany Ericson is a writer who lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts. You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.



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