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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Down in Jungleland: The nature of things

Mother Nature might be a genius junkie, but she seems to have finally overplayed her hand.

Written by Ranjit Lal |
Updated: July 31, 2016 1:20:03 am
So what does Mother Nature do? So what does Mother Nature do?

Really, if any human entity developed or promoted some of the ideas that Mother Nature has come up with, that person would be considered a hallucinogenic genius junkie and be stashed away in a secure psychiatric facility forever. Let’s just take a look at some of the crazy, improbable ideas she’s come up with.

All life on earth needs oxygen to live, and most living creatures exhale carbon dioxide. But there’s a limited supply of oxygen in the world and an unlimited amount of life, whose main aim is to proliferate crazily. Obviously, there’s a potential supply-demand crisis brewing and suffocation by CO2 poisoning staring us in the face. So what does Mother Nature do? She produces plankton and plants, which, hey presto, consume carbon dioxide during the day and exhale oxygen! Aargh, even the most pathetic Bollywood script-writer would have been ashamed of presenting such a banal script! What’s worse is that plants and plankton do their job in martyred silence, use almost inexhaustible sunlight, water and a few elements and minerals from the earth (which we, in our wisdom, call “dirt” and “soil”). Sure, trees take their time to grow, but once they’re up there, they can be oxygen factories for thousands of years and much more. Some start off being pinprick seeds and end up as giants of the rainforest. Some career graph, that!

Look at the way her “mind” works — if you’re in the forests or hills, you might be enchanted by fireflies, winking their lovely green lights romantically over the foliage, seducing one another — and you. Ah, but that’s not enough for our genius junkie: she needs a dramatic story. So, amidst them, she lets loose femme fatale fireflies who seduce lovesick Romeos of a different species with come-hither winks — and consumes them.

Her arsenal of weaponry is nightmarish. It includes any number of toxins and venoms, bacteria and viruses, miniscule quantities of which can do such pleasant things as turn flesh and bone into porridge, solidify blood, stymie the nervous system, make you develop ferocious tics and squints and unsightly carbuncles, and, when she really wants to be vicious, pass out and even die from sheer agony. And, of course, other weapons that stab, bite, sting, eat and clobber you outright. A lot of the creatures she thus arms, of course, pretend to be innocent bystanders, while waiting to ambush you — like the stonefish. Others, like the lionfish, are decked up like tribal warriors, fatally attracting nosy parkers or little children.

She also has her unique brand of humour — and justice. Take caterpillars, for instance. After they hatch, they carry on as if life was nothing but the equivalent of a hamburger eating contest — except that they consume leaves not burgers, and do so for weeks, not minutes. Then, one day, Mother Nature wags a finger and says, “Okay kiddo, you’ve had enough, you’re gross — time for yoga now, spin a hammock and meditate, do penance for your greed by eating yourself up internally!” And then, some days later, when full penance has been done, she smiles and blesses it, “Arise now, and flutter forth as a gorgeous butterfly — but you will only sip nectar from now on!” (If you’re an unfortunate moth, you may not even have a mouth and not eat anything ever again!)

She’s got a mind-boggling array of systems in place and equips “her” creatures with beyond state-of-the-art software and hardware — flying skills that can make you land upside down on the ceiling (if you’re a bluebottle or fly); communication systems that enable you to send low frequency rumbles across miles of desert country if you’re an elephant matriarch; or, high-pitched squeals that travel vast distances under the oceans if you’re a whale or dolphin. A sense of smell that can pick up a hotdog at 20 miles if you’re a bear, or a drop of blood in an ocean if you’re lucky enough to be a great white shark. Hearing that can pick up the scuffling of a mouse underground or vole under the snow if you’re an owl. Even the lowly are sprinkled with stardust: dungbeetles, delving in muck, use the Milky Way to find their way around (GPS? What GPS, that’s primitive!); flimsy Monarch butterflies navigate their way from Canada to California and Mexico (so much for our solar planes, and even Juno nosing around Jupiter!) And in all these, the hardware and software is built into the creature, with not a mission control, SIM card, motherboard, or sliver of silicon or piece of plastic anywhere in sight!

Ah, but then she became too clever by half. Obviously on a high, she grew overconfident and overplayed her hand. She made us, and, unforgivably, gave us brains. And ever since we got up on two legs and started wandering around (looking for things to kill instead of standing and staring gob-smacked) we’ve been doing our damnedest best to undo and unravel her work, and worse. So we muck up the water, foul the air, decimate the rainforests, pump huge amounts of CO2 into the skies (it’s good for the plants!) and sit back, smirking, and, sometimes, choking, because we’ve been so good at it all. She might have had some wacko genius ideas in her time, but now it’s our turn!

And we know, if we have to, we can obliterate her entire life’s work with the press of a button. Of course, like all suicide bombers, we’ll go along with everything else, but…

Umm, so now who’s the real hallucinogenic genius junkie who needs to be locked away in a psychiatric facility forever, eh?

Sorry Mother Nature, you’ve just been superseded.

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher.

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