I was on a long drive last weekend. It was tedious and came on the end of a busy few days. I pulled into a motorway services, parked, turned off the engine and draped a large dark blue scarf over my head and upper body to take a reviving nap. I wondered what this miniature scene looked like to someone passing by. An unknowable human form draped in midnight blue sitting in a parked car in the busy indifference of the motorway services.
A little later, relaxed into my beautiful Cornish destination, I began to write a short story about someone in the drivers seat of a car in a motorway service station, who happens to have died. The story, it turns out, is about the idea that the world might not be a palimpsest, a reliquary, it might not be a medium that takes our passing, clings onto it, marking a record for those who follow. The earth might be indifferent. The earth might hold no hauntings, none of the presences we so often feel; the sense of knowing that other feet have trodden, other hearts have beaten. The feeling that we are swayed by the sweeping pendulum arcs of other souls.
We have been too sloppy not to leave evidence, in even the blackest depths of the ocean, the most pristine mountain summits or wildest woodland glades. Our trash is everywhere. Our convenience overlays the world like a pox. It will take a long time for the structures we have built to disappear as though there had been no humans.
But the story is not about longing for that disappearance, or yearning for a return to a primordial innocence. We are here now, and that is ok. We are simply animals and we fulfil our strange, often disappointing, sometimes glorious animal potential quite logically. However, to the detriment of all, that logic is shaped by a kind of divine frenzy for the new, an uncontrollable urge to change and use up, an inability to learn the lessons of unintended consequences. Our nature makes us clever enough to constantly improve things, not clever enough, so far, not to destroy them in the process. But this story is, as I said, not about that.
I find it comforting to think that the earth really is indifferent, that ours is not the greatest story. It is just a story. Perhaps the sense that we can intuit the richness of past human occupation, the feelings we have about the resonance of a place, are just hand luggage, brought with us like a picnic. The mighty earth is too indifferent to even shrug dismissively at our presumption of leaving a mark.
It would be truly brilliant if we could fix our destruction and keep this home, for all who share it, fit for habitation. But when we are gone, perhaps after all it is better if we leave no ghosts.