Katrina Naomi

Beach Cleaning & Poetry In Strange Times

In my last blog, I wrote about how I’d found a routine to help me in these difficult times. My day goes like this: reading poetry, writing poetry, admin, walking/beach cleaning, teaching/mentoring, dancing or yoga.

It’s felt important to have a mix of things so that it’s not all writing and admin. Still, I’m writing a lot more and feel a good deal calmer as a result of the routine. Before finding this routine my emotions were really heightened.

Walking every day after lunch has kept me in good shape – mentally as much as anything. Most days, I walk with my partner – and this walk has become the highlight of my day. Usually, I walk on the beach. I go whatever the weather. With the recent full moon, the beach at Penzance in Cornwall, where I live, has had extremely low tides – even the tide seems surprised at how far out it is. I’ve walked places that I’ve never seen uncovered before. I’ve been able to wade to Long Rock, half-way between Penzance and Marazion. Up close, the rocks are covered with dark weed. If you move the weed, crabs scurry or stand their watery ground, main pincer raised.

Other times, I walk from Penzance to Newlyn – via an in-between beach known as Wherrytown. This used to have a tin mine way out under the sea. The Wherrytown beach to Newlyn is a pebbled and bouldered stretch, with the remains of the old road from Newlyn to Penzance – lumps of flat granite – still visible across the beach. These are great to stroll or hop along – who says I’ve got to be a grown up all the time?

Whichever beach I walk, I always take a small bag to pick up rubbish. On the Wherrytown side, most of the rubbish is ghost gear – fishing wire, net, string, gloves and the occasional welly. But three days ago, I found the fish-eaten waistband of a pyjama bottom, half a brown t-shirt and some spectacles, minus the lenses.

On the Penzance to Marazion side, I’m usually picking up cans (Stella or Carling are most popular), green glass bottles, shredded plastic coffee cups and lids, plastic ice cream spoons and multicoloured micro-plastic, which is often quite beautiful – especially if you like bright colours, as I do – but then so do the sea birds, fish and seals.

I usually volunteer with Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) every Tuesday on a project called Wild Penwith. We work on the land rather than the beaches, scything bracken and brambles to promote wild flowers, we also clean up streams and ponds, and work with farmers who are trying to improve their soil quality. I love doing this. I’m happy getting muddy, damp, cold and stung by nettles, not so keen when I’m stung by horse flies. But of course, I can’t go out with CWT at present, so beach cleaning is the next best thing. I like that I can beach clean alone or with my partner. All I need is a bag and an hour or so. Gloves are probably a good idea but I usually forget them. I like the focus – Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘Sandpiper’ comes to mind:

‘[…] the world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear’.

I empathise with this bird. I admire its intensity – it’s hard to think of much else when you’re scouring the beach for the next bit of plastic or glass or net. I keep looking. Friends have found Lego pieces, lost overboard from the container ship Tokio Express when it foundered off of Land’s End in 1997. I haven’t but I keep looking.

I can never clean the beach entirely, the next high tide will always bring in something new. And who knows, what that might be? One day, I found a clay doll, about three inches long. I think she became part of an artwork my partner was making. Whatever I find, it’s the focus, and the walking, and the satisfaction of cleaning up the beach that does me good. I plan to keep up this beach cleaning, even once these very strange times are behind us.

Katrina’s collection, Wild Persistence, will be published by Seren on 1 June.

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