January 30, 2003

Tiny Worlds

One night this week at a meeting, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the woman sitting next to me was staring intently at my lap. Hmmmm. Then I realized that on my lap was a scrap of paper upon which someone had doodled a rough drawing. It appeared to be a Parmecium, a microscopic animal.

Oops. Guess I must not've been paying attention. While my brain was wandering all around the words of the speaker, managing to totally evade almost every one of them, my hand had been mindlessly drawing a microscopic creature that was apparently swimming around in the pond scum of what passes these days for my conscious brain. Where the heck did that particular doodle come from, though, I wondered?

I'm still not certain. But it occurred to me, as I continued to feign interest in the voice behind the podium, that this might have something to do with Michele Catalano's son, DJ's, birthday. No, I'm not making this up. Here's the deal...

In a post a couple of weeks back, I encouraged parents to get their kids outdoors under the stars, to learn a few constellations, that kind of thing. Michele commented that DJ had a telescope and really seemed 'into it'. I got up on my tiny little soapbox and pontificated that, in order to know 'both ends' of the world (the very large and far away AND the very near and very small, thus making him a budding Renaissance man, well, boy) DJ should have a microscope. Today was DJ's birthday (TEN big ones!) and he got his microscope! Hot diggety. Oh man, I'm jealous. I'm serious.

I got a microscope (of the drugstore variety) for my birthday when I was about DJ's age. My parents were totally clueless about what I should look at with the thing. "Put some cotton fibers in a drop of water" they said. (Yawn!) "Get some water from the commode. That's gotta be crawling with interesting things". (Blecch!) "How about a dead fly?" Boring. Its a wonder I ended up spending six years of college with the microscope crowd after this totally insipid first encounter with the micrometric world.

Most biology classes don't go much beyond my poor parents' creativity. "Today we're going to look at the preserved, stained cells of an onion skin/ cheek cell/ protozoan. Boring, two-dimensional, motionless, lifeless. Phooey!

But once I learned where to look and I saw the intricacy and beauty of the myriad twirling, pulsing, oozing and gliding jewel-like creatures that live in the surface water in a clump of moss, a drop of pond water, or the gut of a woodroach (YES! TRUE!)... I became a most enthusiastic field microscopist. Some of my most cherished 'discoveries' of the natural world while peering down, down, down through that lens into the microcosmic 'heavens' of the very small.

DJ, I think we can get you off to a better start than I had. First thing tomorrow...

Posted by fred1st at January 30, 2003 09:13 PM | TrackBack

Diatoms rock!

Changes one's perspective on putting yucky dirt into toothpaste.

Posted by: JC South (aka Jim) at January 31, 2003 10:16 AM

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