Twelve and a half years ago I wrote those words when I left Long Beach, CA aboard my 46-foot sailboat Migration to sail “around” the world. The quotes are there because the intention wasn’t to circumnavigate the earth, but to meander about, visit different cultures, share, and learn.
So far, across 40,000 nautical miles and 26 countries, I’ve done just that… and also discovered facets of my own country, the USA.
There are times when Migration is coasting over the swells, her sails drawing silently, her bow wave singing—the sky is blue, the wind ideal, and I marvel at the immense beauty of the world, and that my home can travel across the sea in such harmonious concert with nature. My heart expands.
There are times when storms rage and life is uncomfortable and wet, and I cower away from the sea and the wind, longing for calm, and my heart contracts to wait for better days.
And there are the times when what could be joyful is blighted by scenes all too real: fishermen dynamiting reefs, tour boats casting anchors on pristine coral, bloated bodies of dead seabirds…, and trash. Trash of all kinds: flip-flops are popular, fishing nets and floats, light bulbs (how do they survive?), styrofoam boxes. But the king and queen of trash are plastic bags and water bottles. We find them everywhere: on remote islands, lonely reefs, floating a thousand miles from nowhere. My heart withers.
I fly to the USA every so often to visit family. Because I have been away for a spell, I notice changes. One year, every time I went into a restaurant, my glass of water was served with a straw. This was new. I found that Americans had decided a glass washed in a high-temperature dishwasher might still have germs. That false perception creates a demand for 500 million plastic drinking straws every day. Yes, day. Because we think we might get sick. The same way we mistakenly think drinking water bought in a plastic bottle is somehow healthier.
Our bodies are remarkable. Take care of them and they last a long time and keep all sorts of harmful substances on the outside.
Our planet is remarkable, too. But hardly any of our world is on the outside of our planet. What we seem to have forgotten is that protecting our bodies (or cars, homes, phones, toys, etc.) at the expense of our earth, achieves the opposite. When our mother earth gets sick, so do we. Plastic—including micro-plastic—permeates the sea. It is in turtles, birds, sharks, whales, fish… the fish we eat.
My heart shrinks at the thought.
Then… I sail, dive, snorkel, meet fascinating people from other lands. My heart expands. Plastic bottles slide along Migration’s hull. My heart shrinks. The wind and sea carry my home gently forward. My heart expands.
We must breathe. The sea must breathe. The earth must breathe.
The immensity of the Big Blue is as overwhelming as the size of the environmental problems we face. But we breathe, ask the waiter to hold the straw, don’t buy plastic bottles, avoid plastic bags, breathe again. Learn. Share. Breathe again. Expand our efforts. And when we are ready, cast off the docklines and venture out into the blue.
Bruce Balan is the author of many books for young readers including The Magic Hippo and Buoy, Home at Sea—a Parents Choice Gold Medal book. You can learn more about his books at www.brucebalan.com and follow his voyage on the occasionally updated site: migrations.brucebalan.com.