Monday, February 13, 2012

The loom of life

The nature writer Jill Sisson Quinn said it at the end of one of her essays: "We've had it backwards all along: the body is immortal -- it is the soul that dies."

Which says something very big in very few words.

Which brings me to our compost bin.

All our food waste goes in. When we come back next winter we'll have a bin full of rich soil. Right now I have peppers and tomatoes growing in last year's table scrapings.

New food. Same atoms. Some of them at least.

What the peppers, tomatoes and me have in common is carbon chemistry. So, too, the hummingbirds, geckoes, sea grape, and barracudas.

All life on Earth is a flourish on the theme of carbon. If life on Earth can be thought of as music, it is a rhapsody in C.

Chains, trees and rings of carbon atoms are the skeletons of all living matter. The molecules that account for the muscles of the heart, the stink of a skunk, the color of carrots, the hormones of sex, the taste of vanilla, the pungency of peppers, have backbones of carbon.

Every carbon atom on Earth was cooked up in a dying star before the Earth was born, then spewed into space.

To flow.

To come and go.

We take our atoms from spewed-off star-stuff. Even during our lifetimes our atoms are temporary, flowing in and out of our bodies like a slow breath, in constant replacement. Atoms blow in and out like a wind, orchestrated by that exquisite score called life.

Our selves -- our souls --are unique tapestries of atoms, tapestries of information, in the DNA, in the neural networks of the brain. When we die, that unique information eventually disperses. The self disperses.

The atoms flow. Endlessly recycled. From table scrap, to compost bin, to pepper, to table. In and out of the air with each breath. Carbon atoms forming alliances with hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen phosphorus, sulfur, as only carbon atoms do with such facility, such fluent grace. Carbon is the immortal frame upon which life weaves the woof and warp of mortal souls.