Monday, January 03, 2011

The Second Law

It is a firm principle of physics that the universe is running down. Energy is conserved, but always moves to more degraded forms. Stars burn out. Planets die.

Nowhere is the Second Law of Thermodynamics more apparent than in the tropics. Rust. Rot. Salt. Ultraviolet light. They all take their toll, nibbling away at the little paradise we have tried to build, trying their best to reduce order to dust.

And termites!

The ultimate servants of the Second Law. Tiny sand-colored troopers that nature seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of turning my house into powder.

Every year while we are away they try to undo my repairs of the previous winter. It is an unequal battle: one human brain against thousands of voracious appetites.

Poison? Yes, but sparingly. It's more mano-a-mano, the fierce fire of intelligence against raw instinct, a softball-sized mass of adaptable neurons versus teeming pinpoint compulsions.

I try to be philosophical about it. I know that we depend upon each other, me and the termites, that we are all part of a great cosmic drama, accompanying the universe on its long slide into finely-dispersed cold and dark. But it's hard. Hard to take the cosmic view when you touch the door trim and it disintegrates into a pile of splinters.

I try. I try. And I think of the last lines in Grace Schulman's book of poems, The Broken String:
How all that matters is to stand fast
On the ridge that's left, and hear the music.