I’m reading the newly arrived Life in the Soil. Actually, I’m devouring it. And it’s not even that particularly well or passionately written.
I started wondering about this as I marveled over acellular slime molds and trichomycetes and realized that I often take refuge in books about soil and geology when I am down about the state of the world. In the first days of my “awakening” to climate change, peak oil and what have you, I fed on McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, like Henry, swallowing all 712 pages whole in the matter of a week.
Glaciers, archaebacteria: they are the kind of Earth without us. The kind of Earth that, given enough geological time, will be there after we are gone. Maybe what I am looking for in these books is perspective. I mourn so deeply what we might lose, and it seems such a shame. But these books tell me that, in another scheme of things, it doesn’t matter so much. From the perspective of the glacier, of the lichen, we don’t matter that much…
Does it work? I lose myself in the text, in the imagining of these things so utterly un-human. That’s something at least. When I read about art, about philosophy, it’s all so thoroughly human. Even a medieval religious icon or a 17th century piece of music are tainted with my sense of loss, of futility. So, losing myself in this Earth-without-us helps take my mind off things.
But then there is always the moment when I come out of the text to be reminded that it was written by a human. The science was done by humans. That knowledge and imagination, once we’re gone, will be gone as well – all that work, all that passion – for nothing! True, the real thing will still be there, the lichen, the glacier, geological time. But here I am, just holding a book, and sighing too much.
Aren’t you glad this wasn’t another “tutorial” (remember “Calcium in the Soil,” in 8 parts)?