Massive Manifestations of Life

Every now and then you just have to allow yourself to go on a splurge. You are in desperate need of a treat of some special sort, just so that your moral framework of careful restraint and measured appearance doesn’t become too rigid and self-serving. And it was my birthday, after all! Let me take you back a couple days, while I’m forced to admit on a delicate side note that I’m by now fifty-two years old with a slight feeling of vertigo. But for now I’m bringing you to a neat little restaurant at the other end of Savusavu town that cooks up some truly mean Indian curries and other local Fijian foods. If I told you that a supremely delicious and radiantly healthy meal there sets you back a mere seven Fijian dollars a head, equivalent to four US, you would understand what I meant by splurging!

I wouldn’t bring in much as a food writer for some glossy magazine, because I honestly believe it to be a very vain effort to describe how good a meal tastes on the human palate. While most certainly a joyful intercourse with the taste buds, who relish in the variation to the dreadful routines of one’s own cooking, those outings are a pretext to explore some quality interaction with your host or guest, and of course to take in a slurry of sensorial impression about the living culture that surrounds you at your present but always temporary home. At some special moments even these noble activities take on a secondary importance and your attention becomes focused on the realm of the extraordinary.

While letting myself glide downwards onto the simple stool at the table, where a transparent plastic sheet covers a simple table cloth in washed out colors, and ever vigilant about any kind of critter within reach of my curiosity, I notice some traffic on the window-side edge of a protruding concrete column just reachable with my right hand. A few small ants run up and down as on a narrow track, just a trickle really, keeping a distance between them of maybe a couple inches and exchanging some sort of information tidbits every time they happen to meet a runner from the opposite direction. Since this is a very common sight around here in the tropical latitudes and unlike in the countries that pretend to be civilized it is in no way grounds for filing an angry citizen’s complaint with the local health department, I turn to face the difficult chore of setting the course for tonight’s menu. The scene with the sparsely wandering ants does not contain the slightest hint of the spectacular happenings that are to occur along that same single concrete pillar edge within the hour.

I have made my gastronomical way through half the divine fish in coconut sauce on my diner plate when a casual glance over to the wall on my right reveals a dramatic surge in traffic. The speed of the busy ants has exponentially increased and they’re racing up and down now in drones literally tripping over their forerunners hind legs. ‘There must be a party going on up there tonight’, is a good way to lively up the diner conversation with my ever-present partner, but then my entire existence is scooped up by the sudden sight I will try to describe in detail hereafter.

A massive piece of white fish flesh is crawling up the edge of the concrete pillar, and I am not kidding you. Measuring a good three quarters of an inch along either of its sides the piece is attached to the vertical surface of the wall by what looks like a curtain of upright ants walking on their hind legs, their pincers firmly wedged into the giant piece of nutrition floating over their heads. The transport of the retired Space Shuttle through Los Angeles’ super wide city streets springs immediately into mind as a possible comparison on our own human scale. Very slowly that priced piece of meat makes its hovering way upwards against the brunt of gravity.

Further intense investigations while chewing through the rest of my meal reveal the curious fact that a good dozen or so citizens of this ant kingdom are riding on top of the massive float, freeloading, hitchhiking do-no-goods, those so ever typical parasites of their brethren’s generosity. Or so I think with the blunt but ever-eager blade of reactionary prejudice. In reality these daredevils of suspended gravity on top of the floating meat are the cautious and loyal preparers for any of the potential disasters that could possibly befall their species. Every now and then one of them steps of the front end of the colossal transportation vehicle and speeds ahead in a feverish sprint towards the crack in the wall at the upper end of the concrete column, the entrance to the dark realm of the ant colony’s nest. In its pincers it carries a good mouthful of the glorious protein bounty its cohorts are shipping homewards in this highly precarious maneuver. At any time such a potential disaster could strike in form of a tragic accident, a slippery spot along the way, a misunderstanding in the astonishing coordination needed to make each individual work together in that communal task, and who knows, even the sudden attack of some other hungry denizen of the local fauna, who happens to also appreciate scraps of leftovers walking up the restaurant walls. These individually rescued morsels would then be the only fruits left over from the enormous effort spent in the spectacle of massive transportation playing out before my very eyes.

By the time we have reached the bottom of our plates of our delicious diner the scrap of fish flesh has diminished considerably in size and has reached the dizzying heights far above our heads where the crack in the drywall sheets leads into the ant’s nest. It takes no less than three desperate trials until the crawly insects are able to perform the culmination of their endeavor and squeeze the bounty into their hive, where undoubtedly it will be transformed in sheer metamorphosis into many more of those astonishing and always hyperactive critters.

A massive phenomenon of a different sort attacked the remnants of my birthday cake a couple days later. Never too concerned with punctuality and those other outbursts of imposed temporal order, we had baked it a couple days after the actual date, but it was nonetheless a delicious piece of gastronomical engineering, metamorphosing a giant pumpkin into sublime pumpkin pie. Since we were about to go and visit the family of my friend of bamboo fame back in the valley, I had baked a double dose with two cakes sizzling contemporaneously in the oven. Unfortunately the weather didn’t play its part and the invitation had to be cancelled at the last minute. Knowing quite well that in the sultry humidity of the present bout of wet weather (the sun is making its way steadily up into the austral sky of the up and coming spring time) those twin cakes would not survive the onslaught of decomposition for very long, I set out to eat a monster portion of this delicious desert right there and then. The capacity of my usually fast metabolizing stomach however did not let me terminate the glutinous urges of my sugar hyped hypothalamus and a good portion of the cake had to be left overnight, optimistically available for another rage of sweet consumption the following day.

In the soothing silence of the next day’s early morning I anxiously lift the fly screen off the plate that harbors the cake leftovers to steal a good mouthful of the devilish delicacy way before breakfast. That’s not exactly a very healthy proposition but I’ve learned a long time ago to relax the furious domain of dietary restraint. Unless I feel some tangible disadvantage oozing visibly from somewhere on my body of an ever-wandering gipsy I let myself having good fun most of the time. You could call this divine punishment of a sort, but right there I was confronted with yet another awesome sight of nature’s exuberant abundance. A thick fuzzy blanket of white cotton wool had frosted the pumpkin pie’s filling under the cover of darkness, looking just like the whip cream topping that had been missing on the cake the previous day! Well, white cotton wool it was certainly not. Slender and almost microscopic filaments had meshed up in outrageous numbers to create an inch-thick layer of moldy fungus. Once I had overcome the tragic loss of tasty indulgence of the gastronomic kind this fanciful frosting starts to shine with a very peculiar esthetics. It is nothing less than another mind-boggling feat of self-perpetuating bioengineering. You may zoom into the provided photographic evidence of the hair-rising occurrence at will, and although the lack of proper focusing might hurt your eye of the professional critic of whatever happens to wander across your visual cortex, you should be able to appreciate the little white specs in the textured layers of this aggressively invading organism. It is from there that the filaments appear to originate, while the dark grey miniature pellets seem to sit without perceivable purpose at random intersections of the webbings.

Camera Camera Camera Camera

I might feel sorry for not having expanded the capacity of my digesting organs with a bit more vigor, but the sheer massive numerics and the awe inspiring coordination inherent in these two phenomena I had the pleasurable enjoyment of witnessing, and the diligent duty of sharing them with you, should serve to heighten our understanding of how little we live when we reduce our reasoning to the laws of repeatable science. Our human efforts of massive engineering shine definitely pale, if not awkward and outright arrogant compared to Mother Nature’s ways, in spite of the vociferous support they receive from brawny documentaries streamed by global networks of corporate communication conglomerates to airport lounges and health department waiting rooms all over the globe. Maybe it is all about how you eat, not what! But your common sense might judge this to be a very unexpected and unusual ending…

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3 Responses to “Massive Manifestations of Life”

  1. Vera Goodacre Says:

    Belatedly,Happy Birthday Beat and very many happy returns of the day!
    What an interesting event you witnessed at your Birthday dinner and subsequently with your birthday treat, pumpkin pie!
    Hope you will manage to visit your friend of the Bamboo fame later on, bringing another delectable offering.

    All the best for a very healthy and happy next 52 years!

    Varmest regards, Vera

  2. Rudy Says:

    What? All this fluff and no whip cream for the cake… Well I never… “Can’t touch this…” Need whip cream… Not to mention MEAT & POTATOES… STOP SMOKING THE BANANAS & COCONUTS… Send us the HOW, WHAT & WIND of it all. Speaking of wind where is the Aluna Tuna headed next and how is our Achilles Heel of it all. I’m glad you got her back or I might not ever ‘sea’ you again…

    May I humbly suggest the following platform below:

    Had a GREAT DAY!!! Now for the M&P of it all…

    Speed reading is not my style but you are sharpening my speed reading skills By leaps and bounds. I now read every 10th or 20th word you take the patience diligence to write. Your quest demands many times better. I want to hang on your every syllable… If you feel the need to say Ten Thousand words please just send Ten Pictures:-) πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ as they speak volumes of adjectives and adverbs as well as they get right to the subject matter.

    Hope Lady B’s heel has completely healed. If you are in Fiji sing my “ISLES OF FIJI” song. I did when I was there. Maybe someone will remember…

    Take care my friends.

    Rudy

  3. Rudy Says:

    Sea I was speed reading so fast I missed the fact that it was your birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BEAT and I was so mean to you. I’m going to go scold myself. Just erase it from the message board. I am going to my time out room and think about what I have done.

    Again HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

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