Tag Archive 'life forms'

May 13 2024

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Leaf Out

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Suddenly there is the faintest hint of green in the trees. Then it unfolds slowly, very so slowly – the vibrant canopy overhead. Each day just a little greener, brighter, full of life. An awakening after a long dark winter. Nothing short of a miracle, played out over and over, year after year.

I follow a path through the woods, constantly reminding myself to watch where I’m stepping, but my eyes keep drifting up towards vernal glory. Dark clouds beyond the trees threaten rain, which is a good thing. All these rooted life forms will get yet another good drink soon and become even greener.

Not just green but the mesmerizing hue of fresh verdure unlike anything else we see the rest of the year. It only lasts a few days before the forest takes on that deeper, richer color. The forest refreshed. The color of joy. The triumph of the organic over the inorganic.

This is the eternal promise of Nature – life springing back into action after months-long dormancy. This is an irresistible force in a largely inanimate universe. This time of year, the trees shout what stone-cold materialists deny: that there is something incredible happening here on planet Earth and most likely elsewhere in the cosmos.

Life is self-perpetuating in a way that doesn’t make thermodynamic sense. It sucks energy out of the Sun. It grows; it self-organizes; it reproduces. It flaunts its leafy self despite quantum interactions, supernovas, and black holes. Or maybe because of them. Then we and the other creatures come along, adding further mystery to What-Is. And it’s all happening right here, right now, right before our eyes.

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Feb 03 2022

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Contemplating Life’s Origin

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Photo by Racim Amr, courtesy of Unsplash

The origin and nature of life is a true mystery – perhaps the greatest mystery there is. My interest in the subject kicked into high gear after reading Erwin Schrodinger’s What Is Life? a little over a month ago. With the eyes of a quantum physicist, he sees the essential part of a living cell as an aperiodic crystal, versus the periodic crystals commonly found in inanimate matter. By this he means they are strange and complex structures that do not comply with the laws of physics. That’s a gross understatement, if ever there was one.

It has been a long winter so far. Subzero temps kept me indoors during most of January. I’ve had too much time to ponder life’s origin – waaay too much time, my wife Judy would say. I’ve read other books on the subject and must confess that I’m no wiser for it. After reading Schrodinger, I went through a college textbook on organic chemistry. Oh yeah, I’m in deep now.

Last summer I sat in dense woods watching wildlife go about their business and wondered how all this came to be. The next thing I know I’m studying the molecular structure of living cells. The quest for a true understanding of nature is a slippery slope, indeed.

This is what I know so far about life-forms: multicellular organisms exploded on the scene roughly 540 million years ago, once there was plenty of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. Before that, bacteria and other single-celled organisms ruled the world. The first organisms, archaea, were heat-loving entities that lived in the extreme conditions on this planet 4 billion years ago. How they came into existence is anyone’s guess.

Even the simplest, single-cell organism is incredibly complex. It didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. There is randomness in the evolutionary process, certainly, but something had to get the ball rolling. Is there some kind of cosmic template for life? While contemplating that, my head explodes.

Hard to say just how far I’ll take this line of investigation, or where it will lead. I’m thinking I need a microscope and a good book on astrobiology. I’m thinking I need to learn more about the origin and nature of consciousness, as well. No doubt Judy’s thinking spring better get here soon.

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Aug 09 2021

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Incredible Nature

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Both Judy and I have delved deep into nature this summer.

Judy has gotten into macro photography. Using a special lens, she creates photos of small subjects that are larger than life, enabling us to see them in a different way. Sometimes she takes photos of insects or other tiny creatures, but her main interest is flowers. The inner workings of some flowers are surreal. Sometimes they are downright cosmic. It’s amazing what her photos reveal when she gets up close and personal.

Meanwhile, I have been studying natural history, reaching way back in time to the emergence of life forms on this planet. It’s a long journey from single-celled organisms in an oxygen-starved world to multicellular plants and animals populating the ocean five hundred million years ago, then to the appearance of insects, amphibians and reptiles, then to flowering plants, mammals and eventually us. While millions of life forms have come and gone, many of the most primitive ones, such as fungus and algae, are still with us. Some species of algae are over a billion years old. Some species of bacteria are much older. It boggles the mind.

The other day, while I was cleaning out the birdbath in our back yard, I hosed green slime off the rocks that sit in its water. That’s algae, that only hints at the kind of primordial slime that once covered the earth. While I was going about this task, songbirds flitted from feeder to feeder, squirrels scurried about, insects crept through the grass underfoot, and trees swayed around me in a gentle summer breeze. Wild and domestic flowers of various designs bloom in our yard. So much diversity. So many different ways to exist, right out our back door.

Nature is unfathomable. The deeper we go into it, the more we see. From subatomic particles to galaxies, from a single cell of bacteria to the Amazon rainforest, there is so much going on all at once. How can we possibly wrap our brains around it all? Perhaps it is enough to simply marvel at the wonder and beauty of it all. But no, some of us want to go even deeper, hoping to find the driving force behind his phenomenon so casually referred to as evolution.

Nature spelled with a capital “N.” Yeah, that’s what I’m after.

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Mar 31 2016

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Nature’s Spoilers

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virusMy big plans to take advantage of spring’s early arrival were confounded by the smallest biological entity. I came down with the flu a week ago. Yessir, big old brainy me, Homo sapiens, dropped by a mere virus – something that doesn’t have a single living cell to call its own.

Flu season is peaking late in Vermont, or so I’ve been told. I haven’t really been paying attention. You see, I got a flu shot last fall so I had nothing to worry about. Anyway, I started sneezing last Thursday – what I thought was book dust – and landed on my back a couple days later. I ended up in the doctor’s office yesterday, getting meds to fight a secondary infection.

Why do viruses exist? What purpose do they serve in the grand scheme of things that we call Nature? They’re just puny protein packets hellbent on replicating at someone else’s expense – the punks of the universe. From my higher-life-form worldview, they’re no damned good. But there are strains of bacteria, like the ones throwing a party in my lungs right now, that see things differently. My loss is their gain.

The fact that I’m even having these thoughts is a sure sign that I’m feeling better. Hooray for antibodies – the proteins wearing white hats! And antibiotics, too! Soon I’ll be on my feet again and taking a long hike somewhere. As far as my dog Matika is concerned, that day can’t come soon enough. Staying indoors all day is not her idea of fun.

 

 

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