Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Speak, Earth


There is a passage toward the end of Vladimir Nabokov' memoir Speak, Memory where he compares the writing of a novel to "the zest of a deity building a live world from the most unlikely ingredients—rocks, and carbon, and blind throbbings."

This is the season in New England when we watch the deity in action, when the cold, rocky foundation suddenly seeps and oozes the fluids of life, the blood and tears and intestinal juices and sticky protoplasm. The first rays of summer filter to the woodland floor and wild lilies-of-the-valley, bell flowers and star flowers spring up underfoot. Where the Queset Brook gathers and purls beneath the plank bridge the striders and whirligigs and mayflies skitter and flit. It's all a bit of a miracle, really--rocks, carbon and blind throbbings. Who could have guessed?

Of course the real miracle is not the annual resurgence of life but the original flicker of animation, the appearance of that first self-reproducing organism in a world that truly was just rock and carbon and blind throbbing. The crackle of lightning. The heat of volcanism. The tickling stimulus of radiation. We don't know how it happened. Or where. Or when. For the moment we must assume it happened here, on Earth, three or four billion years ago, but maybe the Earth was seeded from elsewhere, maybe the galaxy teems with life, maybe rock and carbon has an inevitable urge to seep and ooze, to throb.

There's so much we don't know that it behooves us to walk warily, to speak with discretion, to avoid dogmas of any kind. To remember the first sentence of Nabokov's Speak, Memory:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.