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Before Beyond the Map became a full-time gig, we were marine biologist studying coral reefs- on most occasions we spent the majority of our time scuba diving or working on some pretty neat research projects- but on other occasions, when our typical work was slow, we had to take the work that we could get. It just so happens, that during the winter of 2015, the only work available included a trash mound two stories high and a sea of garbage up to our ankles- but hey, we were in California!
At this point in my life, my heart was with Beyond the Map, but my brain was still lagging behind hanging out with those no-good bills and financial responsibilities. This was the point of our story that falls in line with the typical early days of a start-up business- work by day, side hustle by night. Simply put, I was still at the mercy of my employer, so when my boss walked in that day informing us that hours would be cut or I could take a “waste management audit” project instead, you can imagine my enthusiasm of the choices at hand. The gravity of the news lightened as I discovered that the location of the project was in Northern California- I figured, if I’m going to be in a landfill all day, then at least I’ll have the beautiful California backyard to play in during my free time (this is something I now refer to as “opportunistic travel”).
Fast forward a few weeks, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Now do it again, only this time, imagine that you are standing next to a dumpster on a hot summer’s day. Surely, you’ve encountered that smell- a rotten, soup concoction of lord knows what. Only during this trip, that unpleasant smell lingered beneath our noses and remained imbedded into the fibers of our clothing, despite wearing trendy, white coveralls. So, what were we doing you ask? Without going into elaborate detail, we were sifting through the trash of big-box retailers to determine if certain hazardous materials were being disposed of properly.
As we raked through towers of trash, I was astonished at just how much waste sat before us. I mean, I have seen full dumpsters, passed mountains of landfills and have filled my fair share of trash bins, but now- no now- I was getting a very unique, up close and personal, intimate encounter with garbage. What surprised me the most was not the hazardous waste, in fact, anecdotally speaking, I do not remember encountering much, instead, what surprised me was the waste of what appeared to be perfectly good items- bags of lightly bruised fruit, unopened can goods, clothing, strollers, shoes- and the list goes on and on.
"...once you see the world, the good and the bad of it all, it's hard to ever look away and forget."
So what does this have to do with travel? Well it was during this same trip that I also encountered some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States- sheer cliffs of iconic granite peaks, towering red wood trees, sun kissed coastlines and the turquoise waves of the Pacific Ocean. In each of these locations I encountered humans connecting with these natural spaces- I witnessed a woman painting by the sea, surfers enjoying the energy of the waves and tourist from all corners of the globe awe-struck by their surroundings. By day I worked and bear witness to the overconsumption and waste of humans and then, like the flick of a light switch, I was transported to a different reality- a reality where people cared deeply for the world around them. Witnessing, first-hand these stark differences left a lasting impact about what we consume, from who we consume and how that may impact the places where we play and pray.
So, this is not an Earth Day message, this is a lifestyle message because once you see the world, the good and the bad of it all, it's hard to ever look away and forget.
Happy Earth Day, friends.
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Video reading of "This IS NOT an Earth Day message" (8:32 mins)