I pulled back the covers, prepared to slide between the soft white sheets of the hotel bed. Sat on the edge to brush the sand off my feet. That’s when I noticed the tar dotting the sole of my right foot and staining most of the bottom of my left foot black. I’d forgotten how that happens at the beaches around here, here being Santa Barbara.

The particular beach where I’d accumulated tar on my feet both pleased me – the interplay between sky and glassy ocean evoking awe – and saddened me – Goleta Beach is one of our ground zeros for what happens when sea level rise and storm surge meet coastal armoring and a refusal to retreat. We talk about beach loss a lot at work. (Spoiler: We’re going to lose them.)

So now I’m back at one of my favorite hotels, The Goodland. I like the pool and the lobby and best of all to hunker down in the room, in the soft white sheets of the bed, where I can write or read or sleep off three days of meetings.

But first I needed to clean off my feet.

Memories from childhood flickered – family trips to nearby Ventura, this thing with the tar happening – but I couldn’t recall enough or anything really, those times too distant to materialize much less prove helpful.

I try soap and hot water. The tar smears but does not wipe off. I pour nail polish remover over my foot and turn the hotel’s washcloth brown from scrubbing, but still, merely a dent in removal. I think about the poor birds covered with tar from oil spills and from there my mind leaps to the whale I’d seen in the line-up at Ocean Beach last week. I’d gasped and hollered to the guy nearby Look! Look! Look! And then the whale washed up dead a few days later. Maybe it wasn’t the same whale, but maybe it was – in any case, the whale that washed up was the ninth gray to be found dead on Bay Area shores. All either malnourished or hit by ships, the experts say.

I turn to the internet. As one does. Immediately, a helpful page. As happens.

Some people use things like gasoline, WD-40, Goo Gone, and nail polish remover to get tar off of their skin, but let’s not be using these types of chemicals on our bodies, okay? There are a lot of other choices that are cheap and non-toxic, so there is no reason to go this route.


Oil works brilliantly for taking tar off. And you can use literally ANY oil imaginable—canola, corn, olive, coconut, baby oil, they all work great.


The only oil I have is some rose hip oil I use on my face (not just any rose hip oil, fancy 100 percent organic cold-pressed rose hip oil that, fortunately, is available at a non-fancy price). I drip a dropper-full over my tar-stained arch and heel, sigh at having to use it for such a lowly purpose. Then again, it’s inexpensive. Then again, I’m on a budget. Then again, it works. Beautifully. My feet are scrubbed, soft, ready to slide into bed and carry me into the days to come.