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TUESDAY, APRIL 27, 2010, 7:21 P.M.

Dangerous beauty

      I pulled up to the intersection and stopped. While I waited for the light to change I looked around me; briefly meeting the eyes of the woman in the car in front of me as she glanced up at her rearview mirror. I saw another woman waiting for a bus and I watched the way she surreptitiously clutched her purse a little closer to her side when a man walked up and joined her. I studied the familiar landscape. Familiar houses and streets I see many times each day as I drive around the city.

      This was a particularly windy day. Even for this time of year, when spring blows into town and sweeps away the last of winter. On this day the wind was fierce.

      Startled, from the corner of my eye I noticed something lift off the ground and rise straight up into the air. It was a thin white plastic bag, the kind you get in the grocery store produce section. The kind you fill with asparagus still wet from the sprinklers that mist on schedule to keep tender green things fresh.

      Lifted by the wind it took flight. The bag rose higher and higher, catching a ride on the gusts of dusty air.

      Circling over my car, the gossamer-thin bag pulsed, inflating and then deflating. I was transfixed  From below, seen through the aquarium window of my sunroof,  it looked exactly like a jellyfish drifting with the current.

  Sitting alone in the pure quiet of the car, it was easy to imagine I was in the deepest of oceans, staring up at a mysterious living creature; its tendrils, the torn edges of the thin plastic trailing and drifting languidly as it swam in a wide arc over my head.

      Like the sea creature it was resembled, the plastic bag was delicate, translucent and beautiful.  As I watched, the bag became entangled in the branches of a tall fir tree across the road. The light turned green, the driver behind me tapped his horn and I drove on.

      In the late 1970s grocery store shoppers were given a choice as to how they brought home the groceries.. They could choose a lightweight plastic bag over the traditional paper sack. By the early 21st century, people were using and discarding as man as a billion plastic bags a year. Now, finally, we are waking up to our mistake. Instead of just “paper or plastic” we are encouraged to bring our own bags to carry away our groceries.

      I hate plastic bags. I avoid using them whenever possible. I can’t stand the way they litter the fields and roadsides and even trees around us. I despise the way they poison our oceans and endanger wildlife everywhere.

      And now, added to that, I am consumed with guilt because for a moment, when my defenses were down, I found the dance of a piece of dangerous trash and a gust of wind on a spring day to be beautiful.

      I know someone will read this and call me out. They will remind me of the destruction caused by such litter. And I will agree. I will hang my head apologize for my momentary lack of righteous anger. I’ll probably apologize for not stopping to climb the tree and remove the offending bag.

      I’m sorry. I really am. It’s just that for a moment, when I watched with a snails-eye view, when that ugly thing swam across the sky, there was a terrible beauty to it all. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons.”  Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at


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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country.