Friday, October 23, 2009


A disturbance over the Rockies a few days ago resulted in a storm developing over us in the next few hours.

A 23 pound striped bass just ate some sand eels a few hours ago--she's hungry, and she knows she's about to make a long journey south. She knows nothing of North Carolina, but she will spend the winter off its coast.

In another universe, the weather would be grand tomorrow, and the 1st Annual Doyle Striped Ass Bass Bash would go on as scheduled, and the she-bass above would be caught, clubbed, bled, then eaten with much joy and beer.

But she will live.

And because she lives, a few thousand more sand eels will die while wriggling in her belly.

That's how it works. Really.

Yesterday I mentioned Hansel and Gretel in class--a lot of my lambs did not know the story.

Today I mentioned Tithonus--he was granted immortality, but forgot to ask for youth. I was messing around with the class, talking about some technological "advancement" that was likely to occur after I die. I welcome death. Not today, but someday.

Hey, it's biology class.

I have to be careful--I do not want to frighten children. I do not want them to cower in a corner. Still, this is biology. Organisms live. Organisms die. We have plenty of people selling immortality. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention death in a class studying life.

We are afraid of what we know to be true.

Getting older is weird--I am shocked every time I look in a mirror.

As strange as it is, though, the biology is fascinating. Death is fascinating. It's scary when you focus on the "you" in you, less so when you focus on life in general. Still scary, though.

I am charged by the state of New Jersey to teach biology, the study of life. Our culture assumes immortality.

Religion has no place in the science classroom, but I think death does, at least in biology class. Death cannot be approached without religion in its most basic sense.

What to do, what to do? Do what's in the best interests of the children.

So I teach death.

So a sand eel survives. On Sunday, a day it does not recognize as the Sabbath, it will eat plankton. Or rather, it will eat thousands of tiny, individual organisms lumped as "plankton" because we, humans, see tiny organisms in the sea as insignificant.

Each organism matters, or it does not. Life matters, or it does not. Pure logic.

That we, humans, choose to lump individual organisms in a category such as "plankton" or "algae" or "animal" to reduce groups to something less than us may be one of the characteristics that defines what we are.

I have no idea why we are here or why, but I spend most of my moments in bliss, happy to be alive.

Two days ago, as I was walking to school, I was steaming about some hypothetical situation, and a crow flew overhead.

It cawed. In joy. (My evidence? Little, I know, but I recognize joy--if you cannot recognize joy, you'd have stop reading my words long ago.)

A mid-October morning, about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and I get a needed kick in the ass from a crow.

You are not special. You will die, too.

So live.


Joe said...

Thanks for writing this. I've been thinking a lot about this these days, especially as I look in the mirror and realize two things: (1) my hair is slowly going away and (2) this makes me look more like my father. And actually, it's all good.

I was once an Earth Science teacher and taught units on extinction and the evolution of life and the Earth. And death always came up there, so I taught death. It was really one of the most amazing things I got to teach, and when you really realize that life is in the present, it changes everything. Personally, it has made me more humble (my friends may disagree with this), but it also made me appreciate every day. I rarely have a bad day anymore.

Hey, on a separate note, I am not at a university and working on integrating environmental issues/sustainability into the curriculum and across new school models. We should talk about that work, as I'd love to get you involved somehow...if you are interested. I think your perspective would be really valuable.

doyle said...

Dear Joe,

Thanks for the words, I think. Your link is to a bogus site, and I'll give you the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

getrealscience dot com is a sham; is not.

Unknown said...

I'm not afraid of aging. Ever since I was a kid, I thought and spoke more openly about the topic than what is socially acceptable. It's not that I was morbid, but that I always believed life was a vapor.

Joe said...

Yeah, sorry about that with the address. Not enough coffee this morning. I am also on the .org site under researchers.

Tracy Rosen said...

I haven't dropped by in a while, glad to see you're still writing about listening to nature, including our friend the crow. Really, we'd be in a mess without the crows in our life.

JoeVol said...

Huh, I'm stumped. There is something wrong with our servers or something. I'm applying to this one with my email, just to be sure. Ugh. Computers.

doyle said...

Dear John,

Aging's OK so long as most of your parts are working and if you're not in a lot of pain.

Death and aging are tow very different (though related) issues.

Dear Tracy,

I love crows--they're right behind my favorites (grackles). Always glad to see your words here.

Dear JoeVol,

Sorry to have doubted you. So, yes, I'd be interested in learning a bit more about what you do.


Kate said...

My sister and I had that staring-in-the-bathroom-mirror conversation yesterday as she got ready to go to her 30th college reunion (mine is next year.)

"Look at these jowls. I look just like Mom."
"What? I'm the one that is slowly gaining in size and has no eyebrows."
"But you don't look anything like Mom other than the eyebrow thing."

I don't mind getting older. I've got plenty to keep me busy for 50 or more additional years.

But you are right (and thank you for the link at the bottom of your post) all we have is each other. That means I have quite a lot.