Thursday, March 25, 2010

Profligacy

I've just finished reading Bernd Heinrich's A Year in the Maine Woods again. Among its many pleasures is his description of the immense effort a tree makes to reproduce itself, how it produces millions of seeds in hopes of one or two successes. Rachel Carson describes the same thing - and even more so - among littoral creatures in The Edge of the Sea. Both authors point not only to this profligacy of seed, but also to the incredible variety of nature even as one climbs higher up the food chain. Heinrich is amazed every spring at the scores of different warblers, each of whose calls, and nest-building techniques, is unique. Carson glories in the 2,000 species of barnacle. Their examples are legion; their calculations are so great as to approach meaninglessness; their passions are boundless.

The profligacy of humans is of a sort different from our fellow creatures. Our capacity for ideas, conjecture, stimulation, forethought seems as extravagant as the plankton of the sea - we match nature's intensity in the creations of our minds, spending without limit. But we must also be the only species whose waste is reckless, not recyclable. Our ideas have the mean habit of hardening into radioactivity, garbage dumps, ideologies, impervious surfaces, willful ignorance, rocky chasms. Fitting our bodies into the world seems more and more difficult.

At least someone - the poetical biologist - seems to be thinking about our place here, leading in moral and spiritual philosophy, in fact. Maybe also in religion, where the immensity and infinity of nature is God. Outside of poetry and nature writing and the joys of good fiction, I don't find much hope in the rest of our intellectual discourse.

Or maybe I should just stop reading the profligate idiocy of online comments on healthcare, and go outside to look at a profusion of crocuses.

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