Tar Baby

Growing up on the beach in Florida, tar in the sand and the ocean was an everyday occurrence. My Pop kept a can of turpentine handy to clean our feet and surfboards every time we got home from romping in the waves and sand. I didn’t step in tar every day in Cocoa Beach, but it was about a 50/50 chance. As I got older and started venturing into the big surf (yes, we got big surf in Cocoa Beach – hurricanes, remember), there were many times where a hunk of floating tar made contact with my board, foot or hand, ruining my new wax job, or staining my board shorts forever.

Tar on Zuma Beach - courtesy Paige Austin,

Tar on Zuma Beach – courtesy Paige Austin,

It was annoying, but I never paid much attention to it, until one big tropical storm day on a 20-minute paddle out, my buddy Jeff paddled straight into a softball sized hunk of sticky tar, and literally turned into the Tar Baby from Song of the South. I laughed till I fell off my board and kept laughing for hours, days, and weeks after. Jeff had the stuff all over his body and board, and had to paddle in for a nasty cleanup. I stayed out and caught 10 foot bombs for hours with a smile on my face. I was 19, and an idiot.

Fast forward to today. I now live in Southern California, and surf Malibu and the South Bay. Beautiful scenery and beautiful, cold waves. I’m older, a bit wiser, and I have a daughter who will one day be out in the surf with me. Tar is no longer funny. In fact, its presence is a sober reminder of how tragic the existence of post-industrial mankind is for our planet Earth. We are a tragedy upon our planet. How does that sound? We are creating the 6th mass extinction of life on the planet that we inhabit. As a species, we bring nothing beneficial to the Earth. Nothing. We are depleting the soil, using up all the fresh water aquifers, cutting down all the ancient forests, removing 250 million years of fossil fuels from the rocks and burning it ALL in the space of 300 years. We have wiped out most of the great animals that once inhabited the planet, and those that remain are just minutes from obliteration at our hands. To feed our appetite for meat, we have stopped true farming, and started industrial slaughter on the scale of a mass apocalypse. We ARE the apocalypse. We are death rained down on our earth – the plants, our fellow animals, and ultimately upon ourselves.

Sounds bleak? It is. Read some real science and you’ll take a deep sigh, bow your head and vow to change your ways – I did, a long time ago. I look back on the kid who laughed at tar, and I shake my head. I have been part of the problem. I still am, any environmentalist who drives a car and uses a computer is. But now I am making changes, offsetting my footprint. And though it may be too late to turn the Titanic, I WILL do my part to make change, and to be a human who is no longer a plague upon the Earth I so love.

Ironically it was surfing that opened my eyes to the beauty of nature and to the preciousness of our planet. It was my Republican Pop who took me surfing as a kid, and first taught me to conserve – water, paper, fuel. He taught me to be a “good Indian, and leave no tracks”. That was back when Republicans were leading the Environmental charge. They have a very different agenda now.

But their agenda need not be ours. Ultimately we are the people who are devouring the resources, not them. We are the people who are burning the fuels, not them. We are the people who support factory farming, eat too much meat and buy too much plastic junk. We are making the tar babies, not them. We are free to choose, to conserve, to recycle, to buy a hybrid car, to keep that cell phone for a couple extra years. We can buy solar panels, eat organic foods, and choose fish that is sustainably fished. There are so many little things we can do to change our legacy, and all we need to do is… do it.

I don’t laugh when I think of my buddy Jeff coated in tar a quarter mile off the coast of Satellite Beach. I sigh, and cry, and re-commit to being different, to treading lightly and to “leave no tracks.”

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