Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Order of magnitude


A photo of one of my tomato pots. When I set the plant (about 8 inches tall) the pot was filled with soil to the height I have indicated with the white paper. Allowing for some settling, a lot of dirt has gone missing.

Well, not exactly. It's still around. Although now part of the tomato plant. And if one of the tomatoes happens to ripen in the next few weeks, I'll be incorporating some of those atoms into my own body.

What the photo doesn't show is the rest of the plant, reaching almost to the ceiling. A lot of atoms -- carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen mostly, but other elements too -- and they had to come from somewhere. Air, water, soil.

We take this all for granted, but what a miracle it is. The ability to do this staggering job of arranging atoms into just this sort of plant -- leaves, stems, flowers, fruits -- was there in the seed.

Maybe my tomatoes will be ripe in time, maybe they won't. Doesn't matter. They're not here to feed my body. They feed my imagination. They're here to remind me day by day not to take the world for granted, to get up every morning awake to mystery. To wake up every morning and realize that overnight 100 billion trillion atoms -- by my rough calculation -- have been jiggered into molecular position, lifted, and arranged.