Monday, November 05, 2007

Step by Step

In late October and early November, New England's best views are underfoot. Summer's monotone of green and winter's monotone of brown draw briefly aside to reveal an oriental carpet of yellows, oranges and reds. The eyes go down, and notice what has been there all along, a deep, luxurious, unexplored wilderness of earth.

On the last page of his autobiography, Naturalist, E. O. Wilson concedes that the untrod wilderness of the popular imagination no longer exists. The New Guinea Highlands and the Antarctic ice cap have become tourist destinations. Most of the larger species of life -- birds, mammals and trees -- have been observed and described. But the vast majority of the planet's organisms are still uncatalogued. They live down there below the soles of my sandals, microbes in their uncounted numbers, waiting to do the work of transformation, devouring one season, preparing another. "They are objects of potentially endless study and admiration," writes Wilson, "if we are willing to sweep our vision down from the world lined by the horizon to include the world an arm's length away." A leg's length away, he should have said.