Thursday, February 11, 2010

One Cubic Foot of Beauty

My daughter has just started to ponder how big the place she lives is, how big the country, the earth (the blue place, Mummy!), the moon...and it's impossible to explain. The universe is unfathomable, and you can't explain it's vastness simply by holding your arms apart as wide as they can possibly go.

At the other end of the scale, National Geographic's amazing One Cubic Foot project photographs detail just how many lifeforms exist within a space you can fit on your lap. Photographer David Liittschwager and a team of assistants and biologers placed a 12 inch cube in a range of environments, and detailed every living organism that passed through. Edward O. Wilson writes:

"When you thrust a shovel into the soil or tear off a piece of coral, you are, godlike, cutting through an entire world. You have crossed a hidden frontier known to very few. Immediately close at hand, around and beneath our feet, lies the least explored part of the planet's surface. It is also the most vital place on Earth for human existence.

In any habitat, on the ground, in the forest canopy, or in the water, your eye is first caught by the big animals—birds, mammals, fish, butterflies. But gradually the smaller inhabitants, far more nu­merous, begin to eclipse them. There are the insect myriads creeping and buzzing among the weeds, the worms and unnameable creatures that squirm or scuttle for cover when you turn garden soil for planting. There are those annoying ants that swarm out when their nest is accidentally cut open and the pesky beetle grubs exposed at yellowed grass roots. When you flip a rock over, there are even more: You see spiderlings and sundry pale unknowns of diverse form slinking through mats of fungus strands. Tiny beetles hide from the sudden light, and pill bugs curl their bodies into defensive balls. Centi­pedes and millipedes, the armored snakes of their size class, squeeze into the nearest crevices and wormholes."

The National Geographic website lets you examine the pictures in detail, and buy them too. Remarkable!

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