The Mystery of Lost Balloons

When I was five years old, I went to a neighbor’s birthday party. It was a sunny day and she was turning six. All of the neighborhood children were invited and we ate cake in her backyard, surrounded by blooming nasturtiums, fruit trees and cats. Towards the end of the party, her mom brought out a giant bunch of balloons. She gave each one of us a postcard and told us to write a note, asking whoever found it to send a postcard to our address. We each hole-punched our cards and attached them to the strings of our balloons. My friend’s mom counted to three and we all released them.

I remember very clearly the glee in my young mind as I watched the balloons bounce up and drift, carefree and cheerful, pink, blue, green, yellow and purple into the clear sky. I imagined each balloon discovered, still completely inflated somehow, drifting into the arms of another child like me in China, Kenya, France, Argentina or Australia. I imagined receiving the coveted letter, covered in bizarre, wonderful stamps, nothing like the stamps my mom kept in her desk. I waited for it but it never came.

The red balloon floating on the southwestern end of San Juan Island

The red balloon floating on the southwestern end of San Juan Island

I hadn’t thought about that day in years until our first time at sea when we rescued a red balloon. It was slightly deflated, drifting listlessly in the dark water. It occurred to me then that it could have very well been the same balloon that I released all of those years ago, except red instead of yellow. When it was lifted clear of the water, I looked at the tangled end of the string, expecting to see a postcard there but no postcard remained and instead, the end of the string was a matted gnarl. We hung the balloon in the cockpit until it had completely deflated and then threw it away. The mystery of balloons didn’t occur to me again until yesterday when we rescued more, a yellow and green pair this time.

It began to occur to me how many balloons must be floating on their own and without permission, released at birthday parties or on New Year’s, slipping from an untidily tied knot on a little girl’s wrist, or wriggling free from fence posts. My thoughts slid, as they do, to consider all of the other things that we humans do to our surroundings, without any consideration for the effects they have.

I don’t mean to imply that balloons have no place in our world, merely that we should all be a bit more mindful of what we do. Last week we had an interesting talk with Russel Barsh, who explained the nature of surfactants and the problems they cause our world. Within our small boat microcosm, we must be continuously aware of our levels of consumption and waste. As we all continue to work on our sustainability projects, we begin to look at our boat time through that frame of reference, rather than a purely research minded one.

I guess the point of my usual rambling is that mindfulness is the first and most difficult step to solving many problems. How many times have we each stormed around in a bad mood, only to realize we were in that mood and feel sheepish and guilty for taking it out on the world? How many mistakes have we each made, simply because we went into situations with ignorance and no realization of it? I’ve come to think that maybe, the very best way we can help ourselves, our world and each other, is by being as conscious as possible, observing and questioning as much as we are able.

So what are you waiting for? Go rescue a balloon!

Hannah rescuing our balloon

Hannah rescuing our balloon

1 Comment

  1. WhaleOfAPurpose

    May 16th, 2009 at 10:50

    Great post…I linked from my blog to you …cool what you ‘heard’ yesterday afternoon with the resting whales!! I also mentioned this great balloon piece. good job!!

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