And then I woke up yesterday morning, turned on the TV, and witnessed images of true power.
|Original picture found at http://www.reuters.com/news/pictures/|
For much of the day, I reflected on my time at the ocean this past year. I felt small. I, and my trash bag, and my camera, and my little section of shore. Not threatened by any Ring of Fire -- or any other monumental force likely to utterly reshape my coastline.
I reflected on the scale of what I had witnessed. "My" flotsam comes from single events. Human-scale events. A beachgoer loses a plastic sauce-packet in the sand; it's dragged out to sea, colonized by marine life, and eventually tossed back up. A diner at a pier-side restaurant loses her grip on a menu, dropping it into the bay; it travels 100 miles and finally washes in on my shore.
What just happened to Japan isn't a human-scale event. The ocean has just claimed the better part of several towns and cities, first blasting them to bits, and then sucking much of the mass back out into the wild Pacific. People, memories, priceless cultural artefacts, plastic forks -- it doesn't care. It can't care.
Much of what washed away will melt, and rot, and end. Much will sink to the seafloor, slowly to be covered by sediment, maybe to create curious fossils in some future landscape. But much will persist, and float, and enter a wider world.
|Pic from http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Ocean|
Bobbing on the waves off Japan's east coast, much of this wreckage will travel a few miles southward or eastward, joining the Kuroshio Current. There it will cross the vast expanse of the Pacific. In about a year and a half, pieces of it will start appearing along the coast of Washington and Oregon.* Bits will break off to the north, following the Alaska Current up toward the Arctic. Most will curve southward, following the California Current, depositing bits and pieces along the coast of California and Baja California. From there it will follow the North Equatorial Current past the southern tip of Hawaii, leaving more of its mass there. Eventually, much of the wreckage will rediscover the Kuroshio Current. In about 6.5 years, Japanese fishermen may find pieces of 2011's destruction caught among their lines and nets.^
And on and on, until every last scrap of this tragedy ends up beached, buried, or utterly disintegrated back into its building blocks... however many centuries (millennia?) that will take.
We hear talk that recycling will end the pollution of the sea. But beyond the industry's questionable arguments, a larger fact looms. We are at the mercy of a merciless planet. As long as we fill our daily lives with material that can't return to the dust it came from, we will keep filling our oceans with its toxic legacy.
My heart and thoughts go out to everybody affected by the tsunami of 2011.
* Ebbesmeyer, C. and Scigliano, E. Flotsametrics and the Floating World. HarperCollins (New York, 2009): p. 143.
^ Ibid. p. 235.