Monday, December 14, 2009


A Philadelphia suburb, fall, 1975. The Complete and Total Loser and his classmates are on a college campus across the street from his high school. There's a small pond there, home to some fish, other unknown water dwellers and a jumble of ducks of varying sizes and colors. On one side of the pond is mowed grass. On another an acre or so of ungroomed woods.
The Loser and two other ninth graders, all boys (the school is single sex), are working on a biology class project assigned by a progressive teacher who has severe diabetes and has the distinction of being one of the longest surviving people to receive dialysis. He will die by the end of the academic year and is seldom well enough to teach his class now. This gives the Loser and others permission to go off campus, where they smoke pot and cigarettes and swear at full volume. Boys with bumpy skin wearing sport coats and neckties, sitting on rotting logs smoking Marlboros.

These many years later, though, it's the assigned work the Loser remembers. Each group picked a square meter of ground and examined it in detail. They dug a foot deep, took plant samples, and swept a net repeatedly back and forth over the site, grazing the grass and other fauna, to collect whatever insects lived on it.
The Loser doesn't remember the exact number, but it was in the double digits. Dozens of species, living together even as they competed on land that was not remarkably fertile.
Human beings are the only species on earth that could voluntarily, peacefully, bring about their own end. Imagine what a beautiful planet this would be in just a few centuries if we did. The seas, teeming with life. The land rich under clear skies.

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