“If your Lordship should consider that these observations may disgust or scandalize the learned, I earnestly beg your Lordship to regard them as private and to publish or destroy them as your Lordship sees fit.” – Anton van Leeuwenhoek
van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to study microbial organisms from his local pond in great details in the 17th century. You can think of it as taking macro photography to great extremes. He also developed his own camera, aka the compound microscope! He was the first person to witness the blood flow in capillaries. All chaste subjects! But his colleagues egged him on to venture beyond the prevailing ethics of the time. He finally came around to the idea and examined his own ejaculation.
Before his studies, speculations were rife. Some theories suggested that tiny pre-formed humans were nestled inside the sperm cells. Even Leeuwenhoek himself was skeptical about the ‘blasphemous’ experiments. Hence, the above disclaimer while sending the results to the Royal Society. The fate of Galileo was not too distant a past. But Leeuwenhoek was fortunate to be in good company. On the other hands, the sperm cells are not always so fortunate. They have to fulfill their destiny in a foreign environment after being cast out of the native system. While they do not have a pre-formed life, they do possess the precursors that can bring life in conjunction with the counterparts they wish to fertilize. Millions perish in the process. But only one needs to be successful.
Twelve thousand years ago, I might have hoped to go for a nice swim in Death Valley and make a hearty meal out of some crustaceans, not too unlike the organisms studied by Leeuwenhoek. An abundance of moisture, and a low-lying basin with no outlet made for a flourishing environment in a sub-tropical climate. But the tide changes with time. A host of geological factors that led to increasingly arid climate choked the pluvial lakes on their own minerals. Now, on a clear and warm evening, I walked among the neat, geometrically energy-efficient alkali crust left behind from ages of desiccation. And if I were observant enough, I might have come across the chemical remnants of the crustaceans that once called this place a home.
The next morning, I hiked up and away from the tessellated hexagons. With the elevation as my guide, the intricate patterns in the salt flat, the alluvial fans from the dried-up lake bed, the residuum of a plethora of species that was, the dirt and dust there is- all coalesced into an oval shaped spermatozoon.
A camouflage of the biological life, waiting with the elements. For the tide to turn again. For the Tüpippüh to flourish once more.
(randomusings from wandering in Death Valley in the winter of 2020- 21)