By John Weldon
About ten years ago, my youngest and I buried a time capsule in the back garden, using what I thought was a sturdy plastic container. In the capsule, along with other items we’ve since forgotten, we included a couple of toy soldiers, some dinosaurs, marbles, a Spiderman figurine and I think we wrote a note to our future selves too. We carefully closed the lid and then we buried it about a foot deep at the base of a huge yucca palm, in the furthest corner of the yard.
It wasn’t a big deal, it was more of a spur of the moment, lazy Saturday afternoon idea, and we soon forgot all about it.
A couple of weeks ago I had need to dig around that yucca in order to repair the fence and all of a sudden that day was once again clear in my mind. I called out to my boy and together we set about unearthing the capsule.
We dug all around the tree where we’d buried it, but we couldn’t find a trace. No pieces of container, no stray Spiderman, no semi-fossilised toy dinosaurs, no buried snipers or artillery men. Nada. Nothing.
How could that be?
The tree hadn’t moved, nor had that soil been dug up or replaced over the years. The roots of a yucca are not of a kind that might have moved the container very far. They may have wormed their way in, but if they had then surely the remains of the container would have been tangled in the roots.
We continued digging, but no luck.
I looked my boy in the eye and asked him if he had dug the container up at any time in the preceding ten years – he swore he hadn’t. I have to take him at his word, especially as he now towers over me, but I’d believe him anyway. He wasn’t strong enough to dig the container out at the time we buried it, I am sure he forgot about it as quickly as I did and I would know that Spiderman figurine if I saw it again.
So what happened? Could all that plastic disappear in just one decade? I consulted the Interwebs for advice. According to the World Wildlife Fund website*, it takes a plastic straw 200 years to break down, and a set of 6-pack rings, 400 years to do the same, so it’s unlikely that our capsule and its contents had broken down into pieces so small as to be unrecognisable in ten years.
So where had it gone? If the boy hadn’t dug it up, then Occam’s Razor-type thinking would suggest that someone else had. But, the only someone else who knew it was there was me, so if it was gone, I must have dug it up and yet I would swear on a stack of Bibles that I hadn’t. If only the human memory was as durable as plastic straws.