Monday, January 24, 2011

On the mosquito

I call thee stranger, for the town, I ween,
Has not the honor of so proud a birth-
Thou com'st from Jersey meadows, fresh and green,
The offspring of the gods, though born on earth;
For Titan was thy sire, and fair was she,
The ocean nymph that nursed thy infancy.

I witnessed a miracle tonight,
Well, maybe not a miracle, it happens millions of time a day, but today it happened in my classroom.

I saw a pupating mosquito larva erupt into a tiny pale adult.

The late January sunset floods the back wall of or classroom. I have a small tank of elodea. A few snail keep the plants company. About a week ago, I noticed a few wrigglers in the tank. I have no idea how they got there. 

Just before I leave, I make my rounds, checking our plants, our roly polies, our snails. I love watching the elodea bubble off oxygen. It's a nice way to end my work school day.

Just under the water's surface, I glimpsed a violent wiggling. A glassine wriggler struggled at the surface, occasionally contracting violently, reminiscent of the last violent transition stage of human birth.

In this tiny universe, the glassine mosquito struggled against the water's skin. The pupa looked like fine crystal, lit by the setting sun and the tiny light above.

I watched for about 15 minutes, until, finally, a pale adult mosquito emerged, paused, then attempted flight. Three times it jumped, three times it came back to the water, with the tentativeness of a newborn foal testing its legs. 

It needs nectar, and it won't find it tonight. I suspect it will be dead by morning.

Where did it come from? How do the countless microscopic critters alive in our room find their way here?

I encourage my students to draw conclusions from the observations they make. They now have a decision.

They can trust me when I tell them spontaneous generation does not happen, that all cells come from pre-existing cells, that life only comes from existing life. The ponds outside a frozen, the snow over a foot deep. We have not seen flying insects outside for over a month.

And I have a tank full of wrigglers sitting in the back of my classroom.

Or they can quietly believe in spontaneous generation. For a few moments tonight, as I knelt watching the emerging pale ghost of a mosquito erupt from the water, I would have quietly agreed with them.

The poem excerpt is from The Mosquito, written in the 19th century.
The music is from Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, "I'm Nature's Mosquito"--I'm playing it in class tomorrow.


nashworld said...

This is my first full year away from the jars, bottles, and jugs of life I tended in my classroom for the past twenty years.

Oh sure... those have been taken over by Erin now. And yes, I do get to get over to that school from time to time, but never at my leisure.

Uh huh. I still drag the brighteyes to the remoteness of the reef each April. (This year will be April AND June again for the first time since procreating.) Even still, I'm beginning to realize perhaps even an element of why I dove headfirst into that role for so many years... I think I needed it as much as they did.

Perhaps I'm just bullshitting in some way, but this is an interesting thing to ponder: now that I'm mired in the snow-piled darkness of the season in all of it's depressive glory- perhaps that classroom helped to elevate my mood. Could it be that surrounded by youth, and life, and green things, and... could it be that big of a deal in a person's overall mood?

I get it: a million other uncontrolled variable there. Yep. However, a bigfat pile of them are still pretty locked in sameness. I'll get back in town again late on Sunday. Maybe I'll slide across down and swirl the algae a bit on Monday.

I think I need it. Badly.

doyle said...

Dear nashworld,

As much as I enjoyed medicine, had I known how much joy my classroom could bring to me, I'd have started teaching years ago.

I used to be jealous of Doc in Cannery Row, surrounded by his specimens, some alive and some pickled, living at the edge of tides.

But now I get to spend at least a few moments pretty much every day remembering my place in all this, well, awesomeness, either peering into a few gallons of pond water or at the edge of the Delaware Bay.

In a weird way, I've gone done mirrored the life of a fictional character. I even have bipalychaetorsonectomy.

(Think I can sneak in with a pair of work shoes on if I shine them up a bit? I'll even put on a tie to distract the staff.)