This past week, Tacoma hosted the Festival of Sail, a collection of 25 or so sailing vessels, square-riggers, schooners, gaff-rigged barks and other nautical period pieces that bring the past back to life, at least for a short moment. The beauty and grace of these vessels, whether bobbing at dock side or under full sail out in the bay, seems to offer a silent rebuke to the industrialization of the sea, to the mega-freighters and super tankers long on productivity and completely bereft of soul.
At least that’s how it seems to me.
And for some reason, this particular homage to the golden age of sail also included the world’s largest rubber ducky. 50 feet tall, dorky squat and disturbingly massive at the same time, it’s the bathtub toy we all got tired of years ago, blown up to ludicrous size, its featureless gob senselessly dominating the marina skyline. Almost 14 tons of lemony vinyl, a petroleum and plastic idol for a frivolous people.
Not that everyone is happy about it. It’s going to Canada next, and apparently causing quite the stir. Of course, even in Canada, the arguments against the duck are mainly centered around the insanely high rental cost for a grande-sized inanimate object that doesn’t actually do anything. I can certainly respect that point of view as well, but I was thinking about the other kinds of atrocity that this particular “art” is showcasing.
A day or two later, I was at the Point Defiance Zoo, looking at the incredible pieces of art on display from Washed Ashore, an Oregon group that makes sculptures out of marine debris. An octopus, a shark, a field of anemone and a tufted puffin… the detail was incredible and the combined force of the message could not be missed. The majority of the raw materials were gleaned from beaches from California to Alaska, eternal detritus that had been cast aside, as if it had anywhere to go.
That duck, that big-ass duck, it will be out here someday too. Pieces of it will be, anyway, and maybe someone will be picking up its crusty shards from the sand a generation from now. If I had to explain my visceral disaffection for the useless duck-shaped balloon, it would probably come down to my understanding that now that it is here, it will never really go away. It’s plastic, that duck, and by definition, that makes it garbage. That makes it something that will outlive us all, that will never disappear.