In this meditation, Amy goes with the flow to examine our kinship with Plankton.
Risa and I were chatting a while ago and she brought up the subject of Plant Kin. Now we’d been talking about kinship for years but for some reason, that day, my ears or brain heard Plant Kin as Plankton. And it occurred to me that I had never once even really thought about plankton, and I was excited about what Risa had to say. “No no no Plant Kin,” she said. Which made a lot more sense in the context of our conversation.
But I just couldn’t shake plankton.
So come, drift along with me on this journey of discovery. Much like plankton itself, I’m not sure where I’m going with this, or where we’ll end up. But even that makes us plankton kin.
See, plankton is at the mercy of fate. The diverse collection of organisms found in water or air are defined by being unable to propel themselves against a current or wind. I am plankton kin, and I don’t need to know where I’m going to start going there. I am plankton kin and I do not need to be in control to survive or thrive or change the world, or even create a new one…
I am plankton kin. I can go with the flow.
I am plankton kin. I can go with the flow.
I am Plankton kin. Changing direction on the whim of the winds or tides, and, knowing I have no choice, letting go of the illusion of authority and jurisdiction.
Jarod k Anderson, the cryptonaturalist wrote: All living things, humans included, are a tiny pinprick through which we glimpse some fundamental aspect of nature.
So as we examine kinship, let’s put a tiny pinprick into Control, and see what we can glimpse on the other side.
The word “plankton” comes from the Greek for “drifter” or “wanderer.” We drift. We wander. We go with the flow.
Me and phytoplankton and zooplankton, me and plants and animals too weak or small to fly or swim against the pressure. Too weak or small to change our course, we are allowed, in plankton times, to float. Observe. Generate and hold energy that might otherwise be spent striving, driving, white-knuckling control.
I find myself in a plankton phase. Feeling semi-unambitious. Writing about plankton without a plan. Seeing what this world has to offer, never grinding, trusting the rapids won’t chuck me into the rocks or the belly of a whale. I am plankton kin and I admit I have no control.
Algae is plankton. Too weak and small to make a difference. But oh what algae can do. Feed the fish, control pollution, come together and absolutely ruin your swimming pool.
"Algae play a vital role in aquatic ecosystems by forming the energy base of the food web for all aquatic organisms. As autotrophic organisms, algae convert water and carbon dioxide to sugar through the process of photosynthesis.”
I am plankton kin and just along for the ride. Converting water and air into sugar. Water and air into sugar. Sweetening the world with my instinctual working presence.
Plankton, too weak or small to propel ourselves against the current or wind… and yet, as oceanography professor Russel Chapman points out, ““our lives depend on algae.”
What is the metaphor here? What can we glimpse through this pinprick in the fabric of existence? For us witches, decolonizing together, what is our kinship with plankton?
Well first, plankton and witches are ancient beyond understanding.
Early in the history of life on earth, algae changed the planet’s atmosphere by producing oxygen, creating an environment for the evolution of eukaryotic organisms. There is a wide range of eukaryotic organisms, including all animals, plants, fungi, and so on. Most of what we think of as “alive”.
Russell Chapman wrote: Some 3.5 billion years ago prokaryotic life began on the planet in the absence of oxygen. The cyanobacteria (blue–green algae) arose and began releasing oxygen into the atmosphere as the waste product of chlorophyll a-mediated photosynthesis. However, the levels of oxygen did not rise significantly for about a billion years. Why? Because exposed iron and other metals in surface rocks oxidized and consumed oxygen, and because the massive ocean absorbed oxygen. But about 2.45 billion years ago the level of oxygen in the atmosphere began to rise because the exposed minerals were fully oxidized and absorption by the oxygen-enriched upper layers of the ocean abated (Kump 2008). Oxygen levels rose and the evolution of eukaryotic organisms began, giving rise along the way to humans (for better or worse). For changing the atmosphere and the course of evolution, the blue–green algae deserve our thanks.
We witches, too, can change the atmosphere of a room or a globe, simply by existing, and, though like algae we are much maligned, we deserve the world’s thanks. We too create pathways for more complex understandings of what it means to be alive on this Earth. And though it may take a billion years for our slow, steady world-changing to take place, we Witches aren’t burdened by colloquial notions of space and time. We exist forever. Witches are the algae of the human world. We can be patient.
And in that patience sometimes we even glow.
Bioluminescent plankton gets its light from a light-emitting compound generically known as luciferin. The reaction between the luciferin substrate paired with the receptor enzyme luciferase produces a catalytic reaction, generating bioluminescence.
AND OF COURSE we know that the words predate the name, latin for light bringer, but imagine you’re a Witch researching plankton, tying its existence to your own, falling into a literal and metaphorical light that comes from within, bioluminescence, only to discover that the compound responsible for our humble plankton glow bears the same name as he who disrupted the rules of the christian god.
Witches are plankton kin.
See, humanity’s relationship with algae isn’t always beneficial. Human pollution and poor land management can cause algae to grow uncontrollably, causing great harm to waterways. We’re only dangerous when you fuck with us. We witches, we algae, we become harmful to that status quo only when it forces us to contend with pollution, corporatocracy that threatens our existence.
We need to thank plankton for the fact that we’re alive today.
The World Wildlife fund suggests that we need to thank plankton for the fact that we’re alive today, not just for that billion year old oxygen production, but because of plankton’s continuing role in sustaining life on earth.
Plankton make up 95 per cent of ocean life. They continue to generate half of the atmosphere’s oxygen. They help absorb carbon emissions.
Me and phytoplankton and zooplankton, me and plants and animals too weak or small to fly or swim against the pressure. And yet, here we are, changing the world. The Us outnumbers the Them. Though sharks get all the press, 95 percent of ocean life is just floating. Plankton-ing around, being responsible for life on Earth.
So we have to ask: who is more important? Who is more powerful? Those with sharp teeth and a tight grip on control who extract, profit, make laws to benefit corporate greed? Or those plankton witches who float along making sugar, making all life possible as they drift?
Imagine for a moment, living in the moment. Unable to make plans or harbor expectations, plankton has no choice but to exist in the present. There is no ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ in Plankton’s world. There’s no plan, which I think means that there’s no such thing as failure. Plankton are just doing what needs to be done as it happens, then moving on to the next. Making sugar. Making all life possible.
I am plankton kin and I think maybe there is more power in relinquishing control than we humans, bent on keeping a tight grip, can yet understand. Maybe there is power in losing control. Maybe there's freedom in a loosened grip. I had never once really thought about plankton. Now because of them I understand that power and control are not synonymous.
I am plankton kin. Not characterized by being strong or fierce or ambitious or having my shit together or knowing what to do next, where I’m going or where I’ll end up. And yet, here I am, deserving of thanks for my world-changing, life-sustaining efforts.
So take a breath, dear witches. Relinquish control and float with me in a moment of plankton kinship. No future, no past. No plans, no expectations, no disappointments. Let go, for a plankton minute, and slip into the deep deep waters of Maybe, Who Knows?
We are plankton kin, we don’t need to always be fighting against a current. We can take a plankton moment today to just float, lit from within, making sugar as we go.
Because we might not be here tomorrow. We might be somewhere else. Maybe. Who knows?
We are plankton kin. We understand what it means to be alive.
You are plankton kin and you do not need to be in control to survive or thrive or change the world, or even create a new one… Sweetening all life with your instinctual working presence as you drift through the world and it drifts through you.
We can go with the flow for four billion years.
We are plankton kin, and we exist forever.
Amy (she/they) is the co-founder of Missing Witches and co-author of Missing Witches: Reclaiming True Histories of Feminist Magic and New Moon Magic: 13 Anti-Capitalist Tools for Resistance and Re-Enchantment.