Sunday, July 26, 2009

I Concur

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

--Walt Whitman

The simple fact that anything exists at all in the void of Infinity is astounding and mind-boggling, when one really starts thinking about it. Add to that conundrum the complexity and miracle of life, and the whole thing is beyond comprehension or explanation. Not that we don’t try, of course. In a few of my classes last year, I was taught about the structure and diversity of plants and invertebrate animals. I learned, for example, that Queen Anne’s Lace is nothing less than wild carrot. Pull a plant up from the ground and the bitter conical root emerges. Or how about the bdelloid rotifer, which is a multicellular aquatic animal capable of producing copies of itself without need for sexual reproduction? In some species, males have never been discovered, yet females continue to produce eggs which in turn hatch new, fully functioning rotifers. Fascinating. Tidbits such as these greatly increased my already-considerable appreciation for the world at large, and made me once again revert to childhood habits of kneeling in the mud by the creek, digging for signs of writhing nematode worms or tiny side-swimming crustaceans.

They fit together perfectly, you know, their parts. Throughout the eons they have evolved from that initial spark in the primeval soup or mandate of God or what-have-you. And those parts, the chomping mandibles, snapping pinchers, clicking legs, and beating hearts, are in turn composed of carbohydrates and lipids and proteins, long strands of amino acids, rows of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon. And within each molecule atoms, and within each atom whizzing electrons, the fat, torpid neutrons, pulsating protons, and so many particles we have neither named nor seen. And in them, what? Bits of sonic string squirming as frantically as the nematodes, as quantum physics would have it? Unimaginable energy forces? Divinity?

The second we think we’re at the brink of unearthing the final hidden secret of the universe, we’ve discovered the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, we’re at the brink of understanding all the clockwork of Creation, the proverbial rug is pulled out from beneath our feet and we find that, once again, we know nothing. Things don’t add up. Space, apparently, doesn’t play nice and behave in an orderly fashion. The old laws of physics don’t apply anymore. If there’s a unifying law of science, we’ve yet to find it. Well didst thou speak, indeed, Athena’s wisest son.

And so, with the knowledge we so desperately crave held maddeningly beyond our reach (like the Queen Anne's root on a stick, I suppose), we can choose either to chase it, or perhaps instead to simply sit and bask in its overwhelming beauty. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course, but for me I’ll leave physics to the physicists and mathematicians. Biology is interesting, important, and life-saving, but when push comes to shove, I think I’m on Walt’s side. Yessir, let’s all stop for a moment, turn over a pebble, and admire the ants and pillbugs as they scurry away in all their invertebrate glory.


secret agent woman said...

I remmeber learning that Queen Anne's lace was a wild carrot. That made it an even more appealing wildflower to me.

Mozart said...

Last year I learned that alfalfa was a legume, and just the other day I learned to identify it by its purple blossoms. Living out here has done wonders for my edjimacation.