Saturday, August 28, 2010

Natural Selection

Today was my second-to-last day of work at the EcoTarium. It was bittersweet, I suppose, mostly only because of how used to its regularity I have become. Also I admit that I have grown quite attached to Penelope, our African Pygmy Hedgehog, and she has finally grown comfortable with and trusting of me. It is a relationship that I spent a long time building, and one I do not really want to give up. My boss, Tricia, is luckily allowing me to work vacations, which will probably equal out to visiting the museum about once or twice every few months. Still, it will be tough waking up on Saturday and Sunday mornings and not driving into Worcester for a few hours of sometimeschaos and sometimespeace.

I sound like an idiot for complaining. As a freshman at Mount Holyoke, I am required to work in the dining halls (no library jobs for me...yes, I looked, and yes, I found some, but no, apply for them I cannot). This is neither a coveted nor excitable job. But it helps pay tuition and at least my dorm has a dining hall conveniently located on the first floor, so there really isn't anything to gripe about. A job is a job and at least I have one. It is just going to be different. There will still be human interaction, but on a less educational and less exhilarating level. And the likelihood of someone busting out a cornsnake or a chinchilla or boa constrictor is slim to none.

I like animals. I always have, but this job has made that fact an extraordinarily acute one. I find myself spewing out facts about all sorts of creatures, whether inquired about them or not. I excitedly discovered last night that A.P. hedgehogs have a high tolerance for toxins, which allows them to eat things like scorpions and venomous snakes, and in a torrent of elation I whipped up an e-mail to my wildlife boss informing her of this discovery. Hours before that, I had painstakingly converted millimeters into a rough approximation of inches so that the children I talked with would have a better understanding of a hedgehog's body size. So, too, did I transpose kilometers per hour into miles per hour, proudly stating to my sister, who I am sure was slightly bored with so many hedgehog facts, that Penelope has the capability to run ten miles per hour.

And this from an animal with legs barely half of an inch long.

As part of my summer reading for orientation, I had to read a section of Temple Grandin's novel Animals in Translation. I devoured the book. I loved it. Temple Grandin is brilliant. She is autistic and although her brain does not function the same way that mine or yours does, it does have the ability to notice the tiniest, slightest of details, in the same way as many animals--their brains also, for the most part, less developed than our own--do, and in a way that normal human brains never will.

I do not possess Temple Grandin's astounding insight. I probably will never even come near to possessing it. But I would like to think, and a small part of me does think, that my eleven months spent working in such close contact with a variety of animals has expanded my opinion of the world in which I live. I am physically large but I am mentally tiny. I am tiny. The animals I have held and fed are tinier than me in size, but in so many ways they are larger than me, and greater than me as well.

They notice things that every day pass by my eyes without conjuring a blink or second glance. They are living in the world--they are living in their world, in this world--in the moment. Every second they experience to a staggering degree, because every second in their life is worth more than even a minute of my own.

Evolutionists may argue this is the product of intellectual superiority, or a higher order and a higher class and a higher species. We are smarter, so we live longer, and we notice the bigger things because we have the time, the lifespan with which to do so. The details matter but often inconsequentially so.

These are assertions I have heard and I have read.
But even Charles Darwin had a fascination with animals that verged on the religious.

We have much to learn and so little time in which to absorb it all.

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