Monday, September 29, 2008

Wild clams

I have no idea why I get so excited by clams--every clam I've caught this year has been released. Very few folks practice a catch and release program with clams. Next week's clams, however, may well taste garlic and butter when they open for the last time.

They are gifts. From Creation. From nature. From God. Gaia. Big Bang. Matsya.

Plenty of cultures, plenty of words. None of them work, true, and there was a time I could be drawn and quartered for saying as much, but most local parishes don't properly worship the clam.

Oh, they try. Singing, praise, lovely noise.

But no clams.

I am looking for a church that recognizes the glory of clams. If you can see the sacred in a clam, you can see.

One of my students wanted to hold Mr. Clam. She was a little nervous, but I assured her that clams are not particularly vicious. Indeed, few things are as calm as a clam.

When she held it, she was impressed by its heft.

Clams are dense with life. They have all kinds of things tucked inside their porcelain universe--siphons, feet, hearts, gills, even a nervous system.

Well, "system" may be an exaggeration. Peter Singer says it's OK to eat clams because they don't have such a sophisticated nervous system. Professor Singer is a sophisticated human teaching sophisticated ethics at the very sophisticated Princeton University. He's also an avid animal rights advocate, accusing humans (um, that's us) of "speciesism."
But he draws the line at clams.

If I were ever to eat dinner with Professor Singer (perhaps at a clambake) I'd ask if scallops, with their eyes and mobility, get a break.

We are talking about energy transfer in biology class--sun to plants to a critter to you. A few thoughtful humans skip the critter. Less taxing on the biomass to skip the middle critter.
I am not a vegetarian. Maybe I could become one if biologists reclassify Mercenaria mercenaria, but until they do, best I can call myself is a clamitarian.

In Richardson Sound just west of Wildwood some little necks are siphoning about a quart or two an hour, trapping plankton that trapped sunlight.They are growing. They are dense. They are good.And on Saturday, a few of them will end up in my bucket.

Teaching biology in public school is a delicate balancing act. I avoid politics. I avoid issues PETA holds dear. I am a timid, untenured teacher.

Until you talk about life. You cannot talk about life without bumping into mystery. I no longer pretend I do not feel the bump.
I do not pretend to know what the bump is all about. No one knows. A lot of folks pretend they do, and they make a lot of money.

But I acknowledge the bump:
Sorry, class, that's a religious question. An important one.
But not for me to answer.

I couldn't answer it if I wanted to. To say even that much, however, might offend those who pretend that they do know the answer.

If I do my job well, though, the kids will figure this out on their own.

Today I showed the stock market's climb since the turn of the century. There's a little downward blip in 1929, but overall it climbs about 11% a year. If you were immortal, you could not lose in the stock market.

I'm not immortal.

I talked about net primary productivity, solar energy, and limits to biomass produced here on Earth. There are limits.Then I show the stock market graph.

I had no idea when I was showing it today that the market was crashing. Even if I had a clue, I would not have mentioned it to class. This is biology class.

Still, there are limits. We are all (yep, even the wealthy among us) dependent on how many photons from the sun collide with Earth. Hydrogen fused with hydrogen creates helium, a little less massive than the hydrogen atoms that fused. What's no longer mass is now energy.

Go tell that to your local priest.

We tamed the Garden of Eden. Darn near killed it, and may yet.

We will never tame the sea. We may kill it, but it will not bend.

Clams and skates and croakers and jellyfish and fluke and toadfish and anything else with gills surrounded by water are all wild.

I want to bring the sea, the wild, to my classroom. The closest I come is the dozen or so horseshoe crab molts tossed around the room.

It's not close enough. Not nearly.

Garden of Eden picture from Our Day in the Light of Prophecy, W.A. Spicer,via the Gutenberg Project; the clams via Wikimedia Commons (anonymous)

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