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Life as Performance Art

Life some of you, during long hot summer days when we played or worked outside, if we were thirsty we’d open up the spigot of a garden hose, run it until the hot water was gone, and then start drinking right from the hose, sometimes passing it around from one person to the next. The only tribute to the reality of germs is when someone ran a hand around the end of the hose before taking a drink. 
Life was rough back then, but most of us survived.  Today, allowing a child to drink from a garden hose might result in a call to child protective services and a police charge of child endangerment.  It ranks right up there allowing a child to walk unaccompanied to the end of the block and back.
Or, if a cup or glass wasn’t available, we would cup our hands while someone poured some water into our palms, and we’d lap it up.  Why, not so long ago we even drank water from the bathroom sink!

Someone figured out a better idea. No more hose drinking or palm lapping. We had to have our water in a sanitary container – a thin, one-time-use bottle – so we would be safe from all those evil germs. We were told that we could tell if the bottle was a new by the way the top snapped off when we turned it. If it twisted, it had been used before. Seriously? We were in Guatemala and saw a young fellow filling empty plastic bottles and with a deft flick of his wrist, put a top on it, and the restaurants sold them as ‘new’ and sanitary.
Meanwhile, someone else figured out that we could save megatrillions of trees by switching from a paper bag or paper wrapping paper to plastic one time use bags. A lot of lumberjacks lost their jobs, as did the people in the paper manufacturing factories.
We were told that plastic was the future for everything from water bottles to the bumpers on our automobiles. Safe, clean affordable, disposable plastic would lead us into a bright new era.
I would not be surprised if the inventors and purveyors of these thin plastic containers owned considerable stock in the petroleum industry which provided the oil to make these bags and bottles. Maybe they conspired against us, just to make more money.
It did not work out as promised. We traded polluting our environment for convenience. All those flimsy plastic bags ended up in our landfills or as accessories on barbwire fences and bushes. Most places will not take those one-time bottles, and they end up in the garbage can and then are buried and forgotten in a landfill. Only a small portion of them are recycled, and often made into more disposable plastic bottles. For a while we were sold another bill of goods about the plastic in landfills: They told us that they would install pipes to trap and tap off the methane gas to be used to heat our homes.
Eventually, and given enough time, the plastics that end up in our landfills begin to partially break down into microscopic pieces less than 5 millimeters in length, known as PFAS, that do not break down. They are so small they can work their way down through the soil. Not long-ago archeologists were doing a dig, had gone down twenty feet, and were still finding PFAS. They are in our water, our garden soil, the air we breathe, and in almost everything we eat. Since we are at the top of the food chain, at least as long as we are alive, the plastic particles stay in our system.
Most people have tens of thousands of particles of at least 9 different types of plastic in our heart. There is plenty more of it in our brains, as well. It migrates into our liver and stays there; our lungs; our reproductive organs. Children are born already having PFAS in their systems because they get it from their mother. It is too early to know just how much damage it is doing to our bodies, but we can be certain it is not beneficial. There are warnings this might advance everything from infertility, dementia, heart disease, and death.
Over the past year or so, Gari Voss has written a number of articles about the plans to clean up the Kalamazoo River in our part of western Michigan. As wonderful as that news might be, it is only tiny little and relatively isolated part of the United States. The PFAS that has gone down the Kalamazoo and all of our rivers or leached into our soils is now in even the most scrupulously grown organic food.
Until reading her articles, and others similar to them, I took some measure of comfort and confidence in believing that Pat and I were doing the right thing with our gardens. We don’t use chemical fertilizer or herbicides or insecticides. Every year I take the grass clippings and leaves for our lawn and convert them into the better part of a half-ton of compost that we use the following season. And, knowing that many of the essential minerals have leached out of our soil, every spring I had several pounds of Epson Salts to add magnesium. I wasn’t trying to earn a gold star for good gardening, but I certainly was trying to do the right thing.
It was disheartening this spring to realize that Epson Salts and organic fertilizer come in plastic bags where PFAS rubs into the product, and the product goes into our garden to help feed the plants that we will eat. It was just as disheartening to know that micro plastics have invaded my lawn and the trees. All of that compost is loaded with the stuff.
Perhaps it is time to go back to the good old days of the 1950s of paper bags and packaging, and glass for liquids. At least those materials could, and often were, recycled. While you are at it, be daring, and go drink from the garden hose.

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