In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway writes this of a poor, elderly Cuban fisherman, “He always thought of the sea as ‘la mar’ which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her.” In proper Spanish “the sea” is masculine- “el mar”. Grammar be damned. What a delicate way to set yourself apart and proclaim how seriously you love the sea.
Long before I read Hemingway or learned Spanish, the ocean was “la mar” to me. The smell of salt water carried by a warm breeze swells my heart with belonging. I learned to walk on her sandy shores and took my best naps on a boogie board under the beach umbrella. She teaches me patience while waiting for waves to surf and pure joy and harmony once they finally come and I slide down the line. I sang Jimmy Buffet songs at the top of my lungs while cruising down the beach in the Outer Banks in my Aunt B’s old pathfinder, windows down and blonde hair whipping into salty tangles. My mother, mother ocean has been what a good mother is to a child- reliable: comforting, full of lessons to share, and an unwavering source of fun and adventure.
Yet the ocean is not the pristine, pure source of life I once knew her to be. She is damaged, polluted, drowning; and it is not her fault- it is ours. I can hear her gasping for her right to be unspoiled through rattling lungs constricted with plastic. This is no way to treat our mother. Walking on the warm, white sands of Hawaiian beaches or the wild and windswept Oregon shore or the Virginia coast that raised me, I find the tide line littered with tiny plastic fragments. I gather as many of these sun-bleached plastic castaways as I can. I make art with them. I keep the colorful fragments in mason jars as a reminder. Sometimes I simply put them in a trash can. I am putting a tiny Hello Kitty Band-Aid over a chainsaw wound.
I could tell you that globally 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans each year. I could point to one of the many whales that have recently washed ashore with a bulging belly full of indigestible plastic waste they believed to be food- a deadly mistake. I could tell you that only about 9% of the United States’ plastic is recycled. I could show you countless photos of Laysan Albatross skeletons peppered with plastic bottle caps, monk seal corpses tangled in discarded plastic fishing nets, sea turtles with plastic straws lodged in their noses.
Instead, I want to ask you a question. What makes the sea “la mar” to you? Think of the ways you love her. Write them down or reflect on them in a quiet moment of your day. Perhaps it’s a sailing trip you take each year with your dad, staring at the meditative waves in a communal silence. Maybe it’s the solace you find while searching for shells at sunrise during low tide. Or perhaps you love the sea simply because standing before her reminds you of the infinite possibilities and mysteries this world holds. What do we do for the ones we love? We protect them. We sacrifice for them. We dream of the best life possible for them.
Join me as we pledge our love for la mar by eliminating one category of plastic from our lifestyle and replacing it with a more sustainable option. I encourage you to choose a simple item that you use daily or a few times a week. You could replace your plastic straws with metal ones, bring a reusable mug for your daily to-go coffee at your local coffee shop, make homemade granola bars instead of consuming individually plastic wrapped ones, replace your disposable plastic razors with a quality reusable one, or use beeswax wraps for sandwiches and lunch snacks instead of plastic sandwich baggies. I choose to replace my current Oral-B Glide floss with zero-waste floss.
La Mar. The beauty of those two words roll off my tongue like the crumbly white water of a wave pushing foamy bubbles around my ankles as my heels sink into the wet, coarse sand. We cannot change the world through guilt, shame, or scare-tactics. Love is far more powerful. Look to the positive, think of what is worth saving, and show your love for la mar through your actions.