Friday, July 01, 2005

35 New Frogs

I read a story the other day about a team of scientists who discovered and identified 35 species of Sri Lankan frog that were, before then, foreign to science. Now I don't know whether you like frogs or have been to Sri Lanka (I do and I haven't), but you should care about this. Why?

Because discovery continues.

We tend, here at our computer terminals (and they are terminals as well as they are rabbit holes and portals to dimensions not our own: sometimes they blind us), to think about this life. This work. This chair. Those co-workers, that sidewalk and lampost down below. That baseball stadium over there. Those clouds meandering. And we're in these thoughts, this zone of reality.

But there's so much more. Even so much more than we can envision for ourselves on future vacations. So much more than we see, hear, and feel when watching BBC news on cable, the only mainstream broadcast that dares spend significant time in Darfur and other lonely, hostile places where Americans won't tread. So much more, even, than we might be exposed to in National Geographic or on the Discovery Channel.

I care about the stuff beyond what I know and what I think I know because it literally gives me pause. As colorful, boundless, thriving, and joyous life is, we only have a small piece of it to ourselves. I hope I am humbled by my small piece of life, its value. My life. My family's. My friends'. But I know I'm humbled by the pieces that aren't mine, that I have nothing to do with, that exist without my knowing or doing anything.

It's one thing to discover and identify a new virus or bacterium or even a forest antelope species in Southeast Asia that the locals talk about but no Westerner has seen. But to discover 35 species of terrestrial vertebrate reptiles living in the jungles of a small island nation in 2005? Hard to comprehend. While we play politics with space probes and hope they get funded or don't crash. We scan the furthest horizons of our galaxy and thousands of others for planets belied by wobbles and for intelligent sounds. We sink to ocean trenches in metal bubbles designed to withstand intolerable atmospheric pressures looking for that which feeds near thermal vents.

Yet, here, in a jungle limited by oceans on all sides, clearcutting for rubber and tea plantations within, and thousands of people living hand-to-mouth off the land, we find new frogs. In 2005.

We have come so far only to find that we have so far to go.

Life begets life. Yet, for rubber or tea or simple lack of either conscience or consciousness, humans hands could divest Sri Lanka of all 35 of its new frog species. That is humbling.

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