The vast emotional distances between the individual members of a Scandinavian family are forged early and reinforced daily. Can you imagine growing up in a culture where you can never ask anyone anthing about themselves? Where "How are you? " is considered a personal question that one is not obligated to answer? Where youa re trained to always wait for others to first mention what is troubling them, even as you are tarined to never mention what is troubling you? It must be a survival skill left over from the old Viking days, when long silences were required to prevent unnecessary homicides during the long, dark winters when quarters were close and supplies are dwindling.
While I was a child, I assumed that the whole world acted like we did, and so it confused me when I moved out of state and met people who effortlessly gave each other the simple warmth and casual affection that I had craved for so long. I then had to learn to live in a world where when people don't talk to each other, it is because they don't know each other, not because they do.
I could hear my mother in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher, the butter knives clanging together as she dropped them into the silverware drawer and then slammed it shut. She was always angry and I could never piece together why. With the self-focus peculiar to children, I convinced myslef that it must be because of something that I had said or done. In the future, I vowed to myself, I would guard my words better.
People are like plants: they grow toward the light. I chose science because science gave me what I needed - a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be.
Growing up is a long and painful process for everyone, and the only thing I ever knew for certain was that someday I would have my own laboratory because my father had one. In our tiny town, my father wasn't a scientist, he was the scientist, and being a scientist wasn't his job, it was his identity. My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more.
Vines cannot take over a healthy forest; they require a disturbance in order to take hold. Some gash has to create open soil, a hollow trunk, a sunny patch that a vine can come into. People can disturb like nothing else: we plow, pave, burn, chop, and dig. The edges and cracks of our cities support only one kind of plant: a weed, somthing grows fast and reproduces aggressively.
We are not getting the revolution we want: we're getting the one that we triggered.
As I spent those early years repeatedly smashing against a brick wall of scholarly skepticism, my bewilderment ripened into the realization that it would take me many conferences, much correspondence, and a great deal of intellectual soul-searching to successfully convince a critical mass of other scientist that I knew what I was doing.
When Arctic summers are cold, the snow that falls during the winter does not melt but instead builds up and packs down on itself until huge tongues of ice are forced out from the bottom of the pile. We find the tracks of such splaying ice as far south as Illinois, leading us to argue over whether unremittingly cold summers could create a "snowball" Earth, covered in ice from pole to pole.
For trees that live in the snow, winter is a journey. Plants do not travel through space as we do: as a rule they do not move from place to place. Instead they travel through time, enduring one event after the other, and in this sense, winter is a particularly long trip. Trees follow the standard advice give for any extended travel within a rustic setting: pack carefully.
I sat directly in front of him, held my head up, and watched. I watched him, as a clear-eyed witness of what he was doing and of what he was, of all of it. There at the end of the world, he danced in the road and endless daylight, and I accepted him for what he was, instead of for what he wished he could be. The potency of my acceptance made me wonder, just a little, if I could turn it inward and accept myself. I didn't know, but I promised myself that I could figure it out on another day. Today was already taken. Today was for watching a great man dance in the snow.
All of the sex on planet Earth is biologically designed to serve one evolutionary purpose: to mix the genes of two separate individuals and then produce a new individual sporting genes identical to neither parent. Within this new mix of genes are unprecedented possibilities, old weaknesses eliminated, and new weaknesses that might even turn out to be strengths. This is the mechanism by which the wheels of evolution turn.
Contacting and attaching to another individual is a big problem for plants: they are anchored in place and their survival depends upon their immobility.
The rainy April weather gives way to a dazzling bloom of May sunshine, and the new pattern of our lives starts to emerge.
I kneeled. A few meters away, Bill's back was bent but his body was standing. There were so many things that I wanted to say. I wanted to tell Bill that he wasn't alone and that he never would be. I wanted to make him know that he had friends in this world tied to him by something stronger than blood, ties that could never fade or dissolve. That he would never be hungry or cold or motherless while I still drew breath. That he didn't need two hands, or a street address, or clean lungs, or social grace, or a happy disposition to be precious and irreplaceable. That no matter what our future held, my first task would always be to kick a hole in the world and make a space for hime where he could safely be his eccentric self.
Most of all, I wanted to wrench Death off and send it back where it came from; it had reaped enough hurt from him for now and would have to be satisfied with an IOU for the future. The unfortunate fact was that I didn't know how to say any of those things out loud, and so I only rubbed the snot streaming from my nose and thought them to myself.