The mythology we need is likewise growing with us.
Gaia showed me a plastic cat today. S/he was cute and cuddly, shallow in that candy apple kind of way, a plush toy of an animal.
As a Pagan, I didn’t expect to have Plastic show up in my meditation. Aren’t we supposed to encounter Great Trees thousands of years old, or have deep and meaningful conversations with wise old ancestral beings? Naah. I’m a city kid. A fake fur generic stuffed cat named Plastic makes perfect sense. After all, I have a pretty intimate relationship with it. As a city kid, I encounter it all the time. In addition, I work on a beach in a big-city park. Plastic is washed up on it, thrown on it, blown on it. Thinking on how each bit got there isn’t something you can do all the time, but there have been very interesting stories that came in on garbage.
Garbage? What is garbage? Something we don’t want, right? Something we want to have go away. This was not really a problem in the past so we don’t yet have much experience with it. With most things, we were more concerned with making them last than their eventual demise. Food came packaged in things that rotted, or could be reused. There were fewer humans, and less to dispose of.
Plastic makes life so easy. Everything in our world is fresh and clean, individually separated and made to whatever size we wish. Cheap to manufacture, light and almost unbreakable, we throw a broken possession away and buy another without a care in the world. While we weren’t looking, we filled our world with it and only now that we are completely dependent on it are we beginning to realize we have a problem.
Plastic changed everything. Plastic is revolution on an elemental level, equal to the moment plants learned to create lignins. Both moments changed the world. At first, nothing could eat lignins. Plants grew, fell over–and lay there. They ushered in the Carboniferous Age. Now we humans have found those buried trees in the form of coal, and other fossil fuel sources as well. We make plastic from oil. Inert, strong, dense, it is a one-dimensional portrait of the qualities of the element Earth. It bears about as much resemblance to a living part of this planet as a carousel horse does to a real one. It does not fit anywhere, and we have spread it everywhere.
It’s still the Earth. Gaia so changed that she doesn’t recognize herself. The substance doesn’t fit into the web of life that is her body, it is an energy that she is not able to integrate into her body–or is it? Is it lifeless, or do we not yet recognize the life that’s in it? Earth does not concern itself with that. It is here, no more. Where does it fit? Gaia picks up the puzzle piece and looks at it, turning it over in her hands as it is buried and turns with the movements of roots or dug up by animals. She holds it up to the light as the sun hits it on bare plains or sandy beaches. She sees how it moves as a plastic bag blows across an empty parking lot or a plastic bottle is tossed on the waves and moved by the currents at sea. She gathers it together on shorelines and in the center of the ocean, feeds it to hungry seabirds who will eat whatever they can get. The experiment is vast, and completely uncontrolled. We who made it could have limited its spread, but we didn’t know, and we didn’t listen. We were in love.
Which are the creatures who can change it back to something that is once more part of the web? How will it become part of the earth in the end? If there are future geologists and archaeologists, will our time be easy to read in the Book of the Earth? Will there be a layer of plastic from the bottom of what was then the sea, in the soils that were the land at that time?
Gaia doesn’t care. Gaia will keep changing until the day the Sun engulfs her. She will find a way to change plastics, as she turned the bodies of sea creatures into oil. There are microbes that eat oil. We use them to bioremediate gas stations. Gaia is already on this, already changing, already singing the opening bars of the next Age. We, if we live, can sing with her. The wise stories that will guide the future are already within us, as are the people who might sing them.