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All things sometime must turn into dust, but nothing ever becomes nothingness.
Preface to the Modern Era
In a time of long ago, the people of the planet used jars for all sorts of things. The very first ones were made of a primitive earthen mixture. It is a matter of intrigue how those coarse but creative beings discovered and experimented with different types of earth, and water, and fire, until they got it right … and then, the container was invented.
Along the way, perhaps it was nature itself – lightning in the desert – that introduced them to the potential in a unique vitreous substance, which was derived from sand.
Many of the vitreous applications were either used in place of or were replaced with the celluloid developments that followed, basically manipulating the chemical structure of the starches in the flora. And later still came the extensive over-usage of the polymers, created from the hydrocarbons of petroleum … flexible, lightweight, extremely durable, and unbreakable … safer and more convenient in so many ways.
There were many, many of these products being used for the storage of and even for the cooking of food. It went on for decades before the people realized that such vessels bled toxins into their contents.
In the early years of recycling, the entities with the means chose to manufacture bottles and other containers out of an easily recyclable type of polymer, without giving thought to the caps or lids, which were most often made of a harder polymer that wasn’t even marked for recycling. And so, tiny, insignificant, and seemingly obsolete, these were thrown into the trash by the billions.
But before all that, before the people saw the need for reducing, reusing, and recycling, so many food products came in vitreous jars. When the jars were emptied, the lids would go back on, and they would be tossed in the garbage, and then the garbage would find its way to a landfill.
Imagine an average city … hundreds, more likely thousands, of homes … in every home at least a dozen jars of condiments and other products … thousands of empty jars and bottles buried in the landfill. And then … how many more cities and how many more landfills?
Progression out of Obscurity
The people of the planet not only managed to survive for millions of years, but they learned to live well. They survived the dark times of crippling and consuming plagues, they outlasted the senseless wars that seemed to drag on with no end in sight – one would end and another would begin – and they came through the natural disasters of pandemic proportions.
The people survived and learned over the millennia. They overcame the infestations of malicious microbes, they settled their differences and eliminated the necessities that had given rise to greed and corruption, and they addressed the conflicts with nature intelligently, with preventive and reciprocal measures.
After hundreds of thousands of years, the people emerged triumphant, and they flourished. They formed living and working relations with each other, with the other life forms, and even with the planet itself. They evolved into highly intuitive beings, empathetic and sensitive.
In learning about their planet and its place in the cosmos, they realized that the entire planetary system depended on the stability of the sun. And, although stars exist for millions and even billions of years, they all do eventually die.
The people had already taken some ventures into space. In the chaotic years of international conflicts, opposing nations had each claimed a different moon, which served only to make matters more complicated and perilous. But later, as a people united, they visited the first neighboring planet and left their markers.
Their next epic challenge would be to launch themselves into space, completely, wholly … to find new worlds, new lives, and perpetuity. No doubt, to build many new breath-taking cities.
Dust Unto Dust
A Random Particle of History
Professor Marcos paces thoughtfully on an earthen mound, which is about twenty feet high and perhaps a hundred yards long by fifty yards wide. He studies the surface of it as he paces, and he glances at the students and technicians gathering in the lot below. They are here to excavate and conduct research on whatever they might find inside the mound.
The property, surrounded by suburban sprawl, has a pastoral quality about it and has been used recreationally by young people since anyone can remember. It has now suddenly been designated for examinatorial excavation, and the professor has been asked to oversee and endorse the aspects of the project as he may deem them to be professional and scientific.
He sees a young woman in a bright blue lab coat carrying a large briefcase, making her way through the groups. She would be the one in charge, the one with the pictures and the graphs, the one with the plan. The professor sips coffee out of a covered thermo-mug, and he watches the young woman’s ascent. And he wonders why they are here. The young woman will know.
He clears his throat so that he can project his voice, “Good morning, Miss Standing Cloud. It was my understanding that all the aboriginal mounds, pyramids, and other ancient caches of the world had been discovered … verified by satellite. Perhaps you can explain what is so interesting about this little hill.”
Samuela Standing Cloud smiles up at him and waves her hand, as if to say, "give me a moment," and seconds later, she is standing in front of the professor, panting slightly, her hand reaching out for a handshake. The professor returns the gesture.
“Good morning, sir! The thing is … this mound is not of aboriginal design. It is of antiquity, but it is not ancient. And it is not a natural formation.”
“And how do we know that?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Professor, I assumed you had been briefed.” Standing Cloud reaches into her coat pocket, pulls out a glassine sample envelope with a small yellow object in it, and hands it to the professor. “Some children found this in a little stream caused by the melting snow on the south side of the mound this last spring.
“We believe it remained intact because it got trapped inside a glass jar. They said the jar broke as they were handling it, and the shards just disintegrated into dust within seconds.”
The professor puts on a pair of glasses and responds to Standing Cloud’s first comment, as he takes the envelope and glances at the object, “Yes, well, there are others who think somebody like me doesn’t need any briefing … and has nothing better to do.” He looks up over his glasses momentarily to check the young woman’s reaction, and then, he looks at the object in his hand more closely.
He recognizes the little cup-like cylinder immediately, about an inch in diameter and about three quarters inch deep. On the inside surface are stamped the words ‘Better Luck Next Time’, and along the inner wall, the familiar tread. The outside wall is fashioned with ridges for better gripping. A plastic bottle cap. He has seen a few hundred thousand of these during his career.
Heaps and Mounds and Ultrasounds
So … they are standing on one of the old landfills. The landfills had always been a part of the rural landscapes. The people who authorized them didn’t want them near the cities. And wherever they happened to impose them on the environment, long after they had been phased out, the smaller urban centers, municipalities, and small towns continued to use them.
Well over a hundred years ago, the giant orbital satellites had clearly revealed every last man-conceived structure and pile on the planet, even the ones in the oceans. Some of the ancient tombs and monuments stood out prominently, and their carvings told of the grandeur and the near bestial despotism that had once defined the people.
But many of the early indigents had not been so flamboyant. They buried their dead, along with their treasures, in simple mounds. No doubt, in their time, there may have been markers of some sort – but the tribes vanished into history and their traces vanished into dust.
The satellites used combinations of infra-light rays and ultra-sound waves to isolate and enhance cached images, and when they beamed down into any location on the planet, they could discern between human interments or those of other creatures or any artifacts that might be hidden therein. Very often, anymore, if a site showed itself to be full of human bones and artificial artifacts, it would be left undisturbed.
The museums were full of such items, and there was nothing left to be learned from unearthing any more. The satellites could scan through anything and could enhance images through multiple perspectives, making them analyzable right where they lay.
The satellite scopes, however, could not always distinguish between natural hills and the mounds that had been made in closing up the landfills. That trash that had not finally rotted or broken down had blended itself in with the natural debris, and the incidental little skeletons could be found anywhere. Feral rodents and reptiles, and felines and canines abounded everywhere, so the presence of such ossa did not necessarily imply domesticity.
When it was determined that a site was of human influence but not evidently consecrated, academic advocates could requisition for permits to excavate. This was done mostly for the training and the practice of students, like the ones now forming into teams in the morning sunlight below.
Their newly developed skills were being honed for the exploration that was being planned on the largest of the moons. Oddly enough, there had been reports of mysterious mounds up there.
The Temporal Granular Matter
The professor suddenly remembers something, and his spine tingles and the color drains from his face. He looks up and sees Standing Cloud walking back from a huddle with the team leaders. She notices the look on his face.
“Professor, are you alright?”
“What was it you said … about the jar … the jar that this was in?”
“The jar? They mishandled it … and broke it. Why?”
“No, no. You said … it just broke …”
“Well, yes, sir, that’s what they claimed, but …”
“And then, the pieces disintegrated … into dust …”
They stand there, looking at each other. She is wondering what is going through his mind, and he seems poised on the threshold of some kind of revelation. The teams on the perimeter have shoveled their way to what appears to be a rock layer, and they are preparing to take their pickaxes to it.
As she watches, the professor takes the bottle cap out of the envelope, he holds it between his thumb and forefinger, and he crushes it. It crumbles easily, and it turns into a fine dust that dissipates into the atmosphere.
Suddenly, the surface opens up beneath them. There is a vitreous membrane of some sort just underneath the surface, and it has cracked right down the length of the mound. They fall through a conglomeration of earth and glass jars, jars that have been buried for at least a thousand years and which up to now have remained undisturbed and intact.
As their steel lids oxidized away, the natural process resealed them with that same vitreous membrane. But now, Professor Marcos and Samuela Standing Cloud are plunging through. The ages-old constituency of the jars is reacting to the new near sterile atmosphere, and it is breaking down.
The stagnant air of a forgotten time, which has been encapsulated in the jars, is now escaping into the atmosphere. And in it, the microbes of the past, mutated in darkness and inertia, are beginning to awaken. Accompanying them is the airborne dust of countless plastic bottle caps.
And now … how many more cities and how many more landfills?
r. nuñez, 1/2013