from our lofty perch of evolutionary superiority, gained through millions of years of back-breaking genetic drudgery, we bask in the glow of being the preeminent species in the universe (other planets or galaxies or whatever don’t count – only Fox Mulder believes in that stuff). we talk about other species in terms of how close they are to our perch, or how we need binoculars just to see them down there in the evolutionary dirt.
how conveniently we forget that certain microscopic bugs can reduce us to hacking, creaky, phlegm factories in a matter of hours. a few days at home, sick with the flu or a cold, where Kleenex becomes your closest friend, brings things into sharper focus. and that says nothing of the truly nasty microbes. someone a degree or two of separation from me just died recently of spinal meningitis – thought it was the flu, then two days later he was gone, a good man leaving behind a partner and friends and a good life. i thought of that as i laid on my back, wheezing, clutching my dear box of Kleenex, and wondering whether that neck pain was just an influenza ache…
we all know we’re just visitors here, but it’s also good to be reminded of our immigration status every once in awhile. homo sapiens is one species; we may think of ourselves as a big splash in the pond, but it’s the bacteria and viruses and fungi that really rule this world (with cockroaches scurrying close behind, of course). not only is human civilization a cigarette burn in the film of world history, we’re also a grain of sand on the beach of life. current estimates put the number of bacteria and virus species in the world at 1.5 million and 400,000, respectively; that’s roughly two species of bacteria for every person in the city of san francisco.
top of the food chain? maybe…rulers of the world? you decide.
excuse me while i go and blow my nose.