By the Skin of the Cow

I had an encounter with a cow on our beach one summer. Well, part of a cow.

In my first piece I wrote about our best beachcombing finds–the toy canoe, the new smelting net, the message in the bottle. Lovely finds. But we beachcombers don’t always find treasures.

A meat market operated in our neighborhood for many years, about the length of a block from our house. It was located close to the county road. On the other side of the road, the brushy bank led down to the beach.

The market was managed by a number of different owners over the years, and most of them ran absolutely spotless operations. One year, however, it was less than spotless. We walkers would have to step through run-off water that ran down from the building and across the road and into the bay. I felt like I was walking through blood, though it was likely only water from their cleaning. It often smelled.

The meat market was “grandfathered in.” It had been there as long as most neighbors could remember. This was before anyone was seriously concerned about what was draining into Puget Sound bays, certainly not one little business. I remember holding my breath as I walked by, and I muttered about it. I wondered what agency would listen to my complaints.

One sunny afternoon my young sons, perhaps four and six-years-old, and I were on the beach when we spotted a huge brown pile of something on the beach–not far from the meat market. When we went over to investigate, we discovered it was a cowhide. I was furious. All the anger I’d held in about the bad smells and less than pristine run-off water spilled over.

“Come on, boys, let’s go.” I grabbed one end of the heavy, water-logged, smelly cowhide and started dragging it toward the bank.

“Where are we going?” asked six-year-old Nat. Both boys’ eyes were wide.

“We’re taking this back to where it belongs.” I dragged it up the bank and down the road toward the meat market. Neither of the boys said anything that whole walk. I was seething.

I could see a customer at the counter through the front window as we approached, but I dragged the hide up the steps and left it on the top step. Then I opened the door and said, “I think this belongs to you.”

I turned and left, the boys behind me. The two men were as wide-eyed as my sons had been. They didn’t say anything.

I have often wished since that experience that I could take similar actions to more serious pollution–direct, simple, and very effective. No shouting. No accusations. Gone are the days when I could have smeared smelly toxins on the front steps of corporate headquarters. Security measures prevent that.

Now, in hindsight, of course, I realize that cowhide likely washed in from another source–perhaps from the same place the buoyant cow carcass originated last month. My self-righteous anger may have been misguided. On the other hand, had they been keeping a clean operation, I would still perhaps have delivered it there, but I would have asked if they had a way of disposing of it.

No more talk of cows in salt water. I promise. They’ve all sunk. We’ve laid them to rest. Gone to their watery graves. Crab feed.

# # #

Several of you have mentioned the debris about to hit the West Coast from the Japanese tsunami of a year ago. We will all be watching that news. A friend told me yesterday that she’d found two large light bulbs on First Beach at LaPush about a month ago, about the size of softballs. One is red, the other is clear. The metal parts on the bottom are corroded and broken. Japanese (or Asian) writing is on the top of each, close to where the voltage/wattage information is printed. She has placed them in her stunning garden.

And Cousin Alice asked if I’d read Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn. I love the sub-title: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.I haven’t read it, but just picked it up from the library. The book jacket calls it “a compulsively readable narrative of whimsy and curiosity.”

Moby Duck : The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys...

Moby Duck : The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them (Photo credit: DI Library)

By sheer coincidence, my book group this month is reading Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionaized Ocean Scienceby Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano.

Cover of "Flotsametrics and the Floating ...

Cover via Amazon

1 thought on “By the Skin of the Cow

  1. To go along with Moby Duck – we have a book in our library by Eve Bunting, entitled “Ducky”, which is a fictional picture book about a container ship that loses it load of toys, etc. and follows the adventures of a rubber duck. Then in the very back, it tells about the actual container load intended for Tacoma, WA., and how rubber duckies and toys have been washing up on the WA/OR coasts. Thanks for sharing.

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