For my payday treat each month, I head a little way inland to one of the city’s finest patisseries, and order cake and coffee. Their coffee is wonderful – roasted in small batches, ground only as needed, prepared with care – and utterly addictive. And so it comes to pass that I am sipping a long black Americano when I read these words:
“caffeine levels [in the sea] are so high in some coastal areas that it’s used as a marker to determine general water quality”
Caffeine seeps into the sea. But of course. Where did I think it went?
I am a caffeine fiend. Every year, in the Spring, I try to break the cycle of addiction; I usually manage a few days, sometimes weeks, before I succumb to the lure of a hot, bitter coffee in the morning, or a comforting cup of tea at work – in thrall, once more, to that most widely-used of psychoactive drugs.
On the whole, caffeine is among the least toxic of the pollutants that seep into our seas (although it still has an effect). But, for me, it brings the issue of waterborne pollution uncomfortably close to home. It’s strange, the sense of ownership I feel over my own addiction and its implications: of course I sometimes drink too much; I get headaches, palpitations, restless legs; I twitch and growl. It is all part of the price. But I hadn’t reckoned on passing on this price to others – to the crustaceans secreting stress hormones from low-level exposure to the self-same stuff.
I should know this by now. What we do to the water in our bodies, we do to the waters of the earth – just as what we do to the earth, we do to our bodies. I smell the traces, as my body rids itself of these waste elements in its water, and I know that these same traces seep into the waters that surround me, hydrate me, irrigate the crops I eat and cradle the marine life I love.
What is to be done? I am not ready, yet, to relinquish this great pleasure in my life – but I do know that the next time I decide to quit, on a new moon in Spring, I will carry the body of this knowledge with me.
This mysterious black and bitter Arabian drink, with its power to ward off sleep, is the stuff of legends; some of them stretching back over hundreds of years. Mindful of its ritual place in Arabian and East African culture, perhaps once I have broken this addiction I will save it for only the most special of occasions. A small change, perhaps – a drop in the ocean – but a change I feel I need to make.
Quotation from Strands by Jean Sprackland.