A little while ago I read another book with an audacious title: Life, by Richard Fortey. Much of it has stuck with me, rolling about in the back of each day’s awareness. I keep thinking about those “microbial mats,” clusters of microorganisms that mark the planet’s first, subtle, fateful shift from inorganic to organic material – 3.5 billion years ago. Grandparents to all life on this planet, the bacteria that make cousins of us all.
For 1.5 billion years these microbial mats formed all the life this planet held. And as life always does, they changed the planet: photosynthesizing oxygen, creating all the carbon that still flows through the planet’s respiratory system. Three and a half billion years later, we’ve begun making our mark on the planet, but back again, to something primordial. Perhaps that is our role in the long life of this planet, to move all that carbon from earth to air in the span of a hundred years or so. The world we create will not be hospitable to us, but it may allow for the dominion once again, of bacterial mats.
The crossing guard at my son’s school; those vast and towering redwoods a few miles north and west of here; the coyotes trotting the hillsides at night; the bacteria in my lungs, slowly suffocating me: All that I love in the world, all that I fear, spring from these smears of color at the edges of an ancient, lifeless ocean.