Vacation time’s a coming. Just like the Dolly Parton song. December yields about 2-3 weeks of holiday in the seed industry. The “holy” part has its origins in solar worship. Sure enough, I’ll be heading toward the sun. Enlightment, indeed.
For some years I’ve considered northern Arizona my home away from home. Vacations in Yavapai County, then drive over to Jerome to enjoy the rockabilly bands at The Spirit Room, then up to southern Utah to stare at the stunning mountains, mesas and plateaus. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen southern Utah.
One day recently, while leafing through a geology book, I discovered that, of course, I’d been spending all my time hiking across what was, not so long ago, the floors of enormous lakes and oceans.
What a strange planet: I slog for days across a desert that was once the bottom of the sea. It never ceases to amaze me.
Now, while I like exotic vacations as much as the next person, I have become bored with the desert. Too much of a good thing, perhaps. A bit weird, abstract and severe after awhile.
Also, more and more gardening is happening in the towns and villages across northern Arizona. For reasons that are plain, I do not want to see gardens while I am on vacation. In fact, I do not want to see plants.
So I turned my trip planning attention to the recently fashionable tours to Antarctica (“Why it’s global warming, darling. Polar caps and stuff.”). I considered gazing upon icebergs and vast stretches of ice and snow from my deckchair like many other middle-aged horticulturist and nurseryman have done at some point. You might even meet Ozzy Osbourne on those types of tours. Then I thought, “I’m just not that aesthetically oriented.” Tonal variations of white don’t “do it for me”, as the kids say. Icebergs don’t work my stuff. Plus, much of it sounded like winter in Manitoba.
Extreme cold and wind. There is a haunting scene of Oliver Reed dying from existential boredom on a field of icy snow in “Women In Love”—an awful flick and a depressing book. Melted away forever my appreciation of snowy fields.
So, my next vacation should consist of snorkeling on reefs and exploring marine life in general. And a bit of reggae life, specifically.
Like most children, the ocean terrified me. Unlike most children, it continued to do so for a long time. I was not a child who was typically “filled with wonder”. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I was brave enough to swim out into the ocean, and do some snorkeling. After I saw a shark only about 10 feet away, nearly a mile from the beach, I called it quits for good. Never swam so fast in my life, like a powerboat.
But, nowadays, I care less about danger or injury. Let them come. I’ve grown less cagey. My new interests are in vacations that involve “eyes” of all kinds—fauna, “insecta” and especially “fisha”. They pull me to the shore and into the waves. I love the feel of stones under my feet.
As you may know from an earlier blog, I’m a fan of SETI research and the announcement of GL 581c gave me goosebumps. The reason for the excitement is that all sorts of life—animal and plant—can thrive in the most hostile conditions imaginable and do so, right here on earth.
For example, the Archaea are life forms so old they date back almost four billion years. They include tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the vents of undersea volcanos and underground hot springs. Some are used to treat sewage and chemical spills. Others eat metals, for instance—and not as do geeks in carnival sideshows. Metal ions, rocks, gases and chemicals such as ammonia are their nutrients. Imagine what they’d be like if they were large.
It gets better when you consider how long Archea have been on earth. If 3 ½ billion years is about a third of the universe’s existence, as currently measured, then there is little question that similar life forms exist throughout it.
This is likely because many Archea and similar creatures—like the marine life in pitch-black darkness—live at great depths. Therefore, they would have little to no direct dependence on a sun. Obviously, they can adapt. Archea have been discovered by geologists in mines as well as during oil drills. Since they have no calcium or other bone-like structures, they leave no hard fossils. Instead, they leave “chemical fossils”, evidence of massive ancient colonies picked up through chemical analysis of deep rock core samples.
But let us return to vacation planning. Contemporary descendents of Archea are often found in plankton. Therefore, I shall probably be gazing over the railing down into the water on the whale-watching boats this winter looking for the great mammals of the ocean. And then, later that night, I shall be craning my head up and peering deep into the night sky.