“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark that stays with you… They are ambassadors from another time.”
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley.
It has been a couple of years since I’ve seen the coast redwoods of northern California but I immediately understand what Mr. Steinbeck was talking about. Anyone who’s ever spent time on the trails among these giant trees will not be able to forget the way that time seems to change, to stand still almost, in the thick mists and soft, fluted columns there on the forest floor. There is a quiet power at work, when you reach out your hand and touch a tree that might have been alive when Vikings made landfall in North America, or when Nero took his first fiddle lesson. These are living things, different than me, but not completely different. I think I need to go back there again. Soon.
When you spend as much time thinking and talking about plastic as I have lately, you start to think about time in a slightly different way than before. The incredible speed with which plastic has made its way into every marine environment, from Singapore to Seattle to Antarctica to Baffin Island, now presents us with some long, slow choices. Any solution that may arise (if we ever get our senses about us), will take hundreds of years to fully succeed. That bottle that is bobbing on the current out there in the moonlight will outlast me, and everyone I know. It is destined for one beach or another, whether in the tropics or on the shady side of Greenland, it doesn’t matter. It has ample time to visit both of these and scores of other destinations. Like the redwoods, these bottles and bags and toothbrushes and sandbox toys will be seen one day as ambassadors from another time, but I do not think they will inspire the same awe and wonder that the old trees do.
It is Monday morning, early. Sunrise is still an hour away and the tide is still rising. The film is ready to be duplicated and the book is at the print shop. I’m out in the shed, drinking tea and thinking about redwoods, plastic and forever.