Darris Nelson loves the beach. That was clear years ago, when a friend asked her young son why they spend so much time at the ocean.
“Mama loves the beach,” was her 4-year-old’s answer.
“That always stuck with me,” Nelson said, so when she started a blog on Blogspot in 2011, that’s what she called it. In 2015 she moved Mama Loves the Beach to Facebook, where it resides to this day, a testament to one woman’s love for the Sonoma Coast.
Nelson said she created Mama Loves the Beach “because the ocean was a passion, and I was seeing a trend of trash increasing on the beach. But I didn’t want the blog to be heavy. I wanted it to be light and playful.”
Somehow, she’s managed to strike that balance. She visits the beach every day — Doran is a favorite — and records what she sees there: the waves, the sky, the animals (alive and dead), the people and, sometimes, the litter they leave behind.
“I just put in what strikes me every time I’m out there,” she said. “It really just comes from the heart.”
Nelson, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in Marin County, moved to Sonoma County 30 years ago, first to Freestone and then to Bodega Bay in 2009.
She said she visits the beach so often because “I feel more connected there than anywhere, and I know I’m not the only one that feels that.”
She has a personal reason for feeling connected to the ocean.
“I didn’t get to spend much time with my dad — he died when I was young — and the times I remember feeling most connected to him was when we were walking on the beach,” she said. “He loved the ocean.”
What does Nelson love most about the ocean?
“Its wild, changing, yet constant presence,” Nelson said. “The waves come in, the waves go out. There’s this kind of surety and certainty that I love about being there.
“It’s also different all the time. People say, ‘How come you go out to Doran all the time? Doesn’t it get boring?’ and I say, ‘It’s different every day!’ The surf is different, the people are different, the structure of the shore is different. It’s always different. It’s a combination of the certainty and the uncertainty and the wildness of the whole environment that I love.”
Nelson doesn’t just take photos and video of the beach for her Facebook page, however. She is also a one-woman beach-cleanup crew.
“I go out every day, and I have a special bag that my husband got for me that I fill up. That’s my regular thing, and I have done it for more than 30 years. Not every day for 30 years, but most days.”
Nelson said she often strikes up conversations with other people on the beach, and sometimes they end up helping her clean up.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed a bag to someone, who said, ‘Hey, I want to do this too.’ And how many people who have come up to me on the beach and said, ‘Because of you, I pick up trash.’ It happens so often, you’d be surprised,” she said.
And she’s not above taking someone to task when she see’s them doing something they shouldn’t — like letting their dogs off-leash on the beach and allowing them to harry the wildlife.
Nelson said she tries to do this with compassion and with a spirit of curiosity rather than blame in her heart.
“I’m not better than anyone else. I’m sure I’ve done so many things in my life that other people have looked at, on the beach and off, and it’s driven them crazy. So I try not to be judgmental,” she said. “If you’re out there doing the work, picking up trash, you can’t be that way. You can’t be in that mindset because you’ll end up hating being out there.”
She does have pet peeves, however, she admits, and at the top of her list are cheap, plastic beach toys.
“People buy them in town and they break and then they just leave them behind on the beach. Sometimes it feels like that’s the main thing I pick up,” she said.
What else does she regularly find on the beach?
“Fishing gear, ropes, hooks, plastic water bottles, beer bottles, disposable diapers, which is kind of shocking,” she said. “Then there’s clothing, towels, sunglasses, shoes. A friend calls me the shoe whisperer because I find so many of them — which I don’t really get. Like, how do you forget your shoes?”
Every now and then she finds keys — and in that case, all she has to do is look up and down the shore until she sees someone with “really frantic body language.”
And every now and then, Nelson finds something really puzzling.
“Sometimes, I come across a whole picnic laid out — plastic plates, forks and knives, beach toys, blankets — where people have just stood up and walked away. It’s bizarre.”
The oddest thing she found recently is a brand new kayak, just bobbing alone in the surf. It worried her so much that she called the coast guard, but no one reported it missing and no kayakers were reported missing either.
“That was eerie,” she said.
But it hasn’t stopped her from going out every day, taking pictures, making notes, picking up trash.
“People say they don’t know how to make a difference in the world or in the environment. Well, I think everyday acts of caring make a difference,” she said. “I just feel like, it’s what I can do. I’m not a scientist. But it’s what I can do every day that I feel really has the most impact.”
Find her blog at facebook.com/mamalovesthebeach.