Robert (gurdonark) wrote,


To me, it's all in the elegance of the recipe. Never mind that I once won last place in a baking contest (all right, all right, I should have known the blender would not dissolve whole cloves, but call me an adventurer). I consider myself rather a refined taster of the right wrongish mixture, the heady elixir of unblenching truth, the beaujolais straight from the vine of the lovably absurd.

Let's take the recipe for making protozoans. Perhaps you've tried it at home. No bones get broken in the attempt.
You see, we all are here to explore space--our inner spaces, and in particular the ways that our spaces synapse together and create that same electricity that Gary Myrick sang about happening when angels kiss.

I love the recipe, which I learned before J.K. Rowling was a single mother, much less before the potions and spells of the Harry Potter series came into print. It works as follows:

1. Take one jelly jar--preferably longish, like a drink of water
2. Pour warm but not hot water into that jar
3. Find a broom, used, and pluck from it a single broom straw
4. Place the broom straw in the jar of water, and place the admixture in a quiet and temperate place, preferably sufficiently ventilated that you will not suffer if the jar later becomes more pleasing to your sense of smell than your stress-beleagured olfactory senses can presently handle.
5. Do not shake, do not stir, but pull out your microscope in 10 days.

When you use an eye dropper to pull a drop of two from the often-cloudy resulting "brew", you find something that even a 10 dollar microscope with a cheap mirror can love. If you've followed the recipe carefully, you have an amazing protozoan experience.

They say that in Arkansas, you don't have to stock fish into a pond. If you let the pond sit, then fish appear. The protozoa in broomstraw water magically appear in just this way. This gives rise to all sorts of creative possibility. What if the Wicked Witch of the West had not said "I'm melting! I'm melting!" but instead said "Euglena!" and the monkey had all turned green and their tails had whipped like those wonderfully photosynthetic protozoa. Then you would not have to listen to "Dark Side of the Moon" to experience the movie in a new way.

I wish to proclaim my love and admiration for a particular one-celled creature. It's an unusual choice--because it's the species equivalent of "Born in the USA", when I am often attracted to the quirky side variant, the "Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle"
varieties. But my heart belongs to the paramecium.

The paramecium is a wonderful one-celled friend who travels forward and backward using cilia. It's an oft-studied thing,
because its cell structures are relatively complex. Under a microscope, though, they are plentiful, active and fascinating, even to the most amateur hobbyist. They are the dollar kites of the protozoan world--easy to fly, endlessly fascinating, and downright ubiquitously wonderful-looking.

I know that others may favor other protozoa. Who can resist the amorphous ambling of the amoeba? Nothing is more colorful than a slide full of green euglena. Some even tire of the one-celled protea themselves, and settle for nothing less than the Norelco elegance of the rotifer. I have always wondered, by the way, what common word the micro-buzzsaw rotifer and the Indian bread roti share. What is their common root, or do they merely share uncommon similar sounds in their names? I still choose the paramecium.

In this era, a majority of state education directors in the usually sensible state of Kansas voted that school teachers should challenge the theory of evolution always and often, suggesting instead that all the incredible designs of life (including, I'm sure the life-like cartoon My Little Pony) point to a particular form of theism proven, by coincidence,to the satisfaction of the five board members themselves.

I like the way that the paramecium challenges easy assumptions. You see, you can't fit much brain in a single cell. You also can't fit many complex feelings, which may explain why paramecia do not get involved in much LiveJournal drama. Yet paramecium do a world of smart things. They swim hither. They swim thither. They feed. They split.

For even the most sedate of sentient organisms who think in the duality imposed by two-gender reproduction, it's a bit eye-opening to consider the paramecium. Like the lily, it does not toil. Unlike the lily, it does spin, sometimes, a bit. Yet it failed to evolve far enough to need the gamete-burdened courtship common in our advanced species. When the paramecium gets the urge to merge, it splits instead. It splits into two beings. Both beings swim, and live, and perhaps split again. Every paramecium is millions of years old. All the wisdom in the universe resides in a single cell, in which no wisdom resides. Honor your elders, I say, so long as your elders do not inspire giardia or anything similar.

If I had the skills of film-making, I'm make a documentary about paramecium (which, I supose, lacks the charm of the song line "I'd buy a big house where we both could live", but is nonetheless a worthy quest). Some of the best cinema I've ever seen has been protozoans and near-protozoans frolicking in a drop of water. It boggles and delights my mind. For me, you see, life is such an incredible miracle that I rarely feel constrained to dictate how life must be experienced in textbooks, or even to pass laws that prevent things as yet non-occurring. I think there's a sense of wonder just in staring down at life happening, whether it is a toddler or a paramecium. Call me a sap for organisms--I won't mind.

Lately I have my eye on an internet foundling foster rescue pet called Geisha. Never mind that I would not
name a pet Geisha myself. I just ran across this rescue lhasa mix and have begun to ponder if we should add her or another similar rescue dog to our personal litter. I do not know if we will or we won't--but the idea of reaching out and taking in a new creature to love appeals to me. This is a different kind of love than the
Greenland kind of love one feels when one looks in a microscope. This is the tactile, there-in-the-moment love.
I love that love which exists in this moment--this very instant: meaning not, of course, the present time when
I am merely typing and wondering how to filter my slot machine winnings on a long layover in Las Vegas on my way home from SF into this post about the grand lottery of life. I mean instead those moments of engagement, when one is not living in the past or the future, but in the eternal now--the place where the eagles gather, the
place in which the eyes meet or in which thoughts unwind elegantly.

Deep down, you know, it's not that an editorial about paramecium is "the thing" that lives. Even if Gwen Stefani wrote a song about them that was featured in a video with backing singers dressed like planaria, that creative expression, fine (or fani) as it might be, would not be the thing experienced. When you watch a paramecium under the glass, the cilia moves and the organism propels through the water. This is perhaps what moved across the waters, and the movement split and spread across the waters and it was life and it was very, very good. This living, more than any crystalline geode or blots on canvass, this is the true art. It doesn't take place
in any of the things we worry about or go into desperation over or ecstasy within. It's about a single cell, propelling, attuned to what it is to do, as it has been for millions of years, as it may be until the star super-novas.
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