4 January 2013


Space is the place. Saturn backlit - NASA

Thirty-second in a series of notes and comments on The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

Chapter 23: Waterbear

page 322: space is not a comfy place for a human. See, especially, Packing for Mars by Mary Roach. Even on that comparatively short trip, the biggest threat to human voyagers would be the cumulative radiation exposure during the long trip.

page 324: [the waterbear's] ability to wait out the most unfavourable times. Some months after completing the book, I re-read Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams (one of my top ten nature writing recommendations) and came across this passage which I had quite forgotten:
The coming and going of the animals during the short summer gives the Arctic a unique rhythmic shape, but is is to be felt only in certain places. Mostly, summer and winter, the whole land is still. The arctic explorer George de Long called it “a glorious country to learn patience in.” Time here, like light, is a passing animal. Time hovers above the tundra like the rough-legged hawk, or collapses altogether lie a bird keeled over with a heart attack leaving the stillness we call death. In the thick film of moisture that coats a bit of moss on a tundra stone, you can find, with a strong magnifying glass, a world of movement buried within the larger suspended world: ageless pinpoints of life called water bears migrate over the wet plains and canyons of jade-green vegetation. But even here time is on the verge of collapse. The moisture freezes in winter. Or a summer wind may carry the water bear off and drop it among bare stones. Deprived of moisture, it shrivels slowly into a dessicated granule. If can endure like this for thirty or forty years. It waits for its time to come again.
page 325: to fill empty places with phantasms. In an LRB review-essay titled That Wilting Flower, Hilary Mantel observes that ‘until the idea of space flight became credible, there were no aliens; instead there were green men who hid in the woods’:
On the lonely road by moonlight, the parts of ourselves oppressed by our intelligence come out to play. We meet ancestral selves, neither gods nor demons but short semi-humans with hairy ears and senses differently attuned – the eyesight of an eagle, the nose of a hound. The phenomena are internal, generated by the psychological mechanisms that connect us to each other and to our evolutionary past.
page 329: endurance.  Some are optimistic about human exploration of space. On Earth,  microbes will rule the far future.

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