Sometimes I close my eyes and see myself living on a raft that follows the currents of the ocean, slowly making its way across the liquid surface of the planet. The storms come and go reminding me of how tiny and resilient I and my raft are, punctuating the calm, steady boredom of time’s passage with the appropriate amount of terror to keep it interesting. The sea life remains mostly preoccupied with its own activity, expressing occasional mild curiosity at my raft’s intrusion and forgiving my own observational wonder at their existence. The sun, moon, stars, and other planets dance across the sky in their predictable rhythms but reflecting light off the surface of the liquid in new ways all the time. The sounds of the waves and the wind whisper seductive tales of lost cities rich with poetry and song. For me it is a sublime little meditation.
Perhaps that is why a decade ago when I read the description of the Raft in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash it stuck with me. Somehow that dystopian floating city of humanity haphazardly held together with spit, rope and tape was both completely antithetical to my fantasy of ocean raft life and also in its own way disturbingly beautiful. Whenever I hear new reports of the growing “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, I imagine Stephenson’s dystopic Raft. They are not traveling across the liquid surface in quite the same ways, but somehow the anxiety in my gut grows as both the fictional and the real take increasing shape in their respective contexts. It may be the understanding that in both worlds, the rafts augur a foreboding future, a crisis we will have to eventually face. In this one, sea life, birds, fish, turtles consume the plastic and it does not sustain them. Just as, eventually, we will learn it will not sustain us.
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