Sometimes I’m captured by a swirl of thoughts that keep popping up from the depths to take my attention — almost like hearing part of a song that you can’t get out of your head for the rest of the day. Unfortunately these thoughts are never about an invention that would make me richer than Croesus; usually they have to do with things like water bears.
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Water bears are colorful eight-legged, segmented, millimeter-sized animals you can’t see with your naked eye and they survive the most determined attempts to kill them. You can boil them, freeze them to -459 degrees Fahrenheit, expose them to gamma, ionic and solar radiation and they just keep on ticking. You can even starve them and leave them without water for almost a decade. They’ll look dead and desiccated, but throw some water on them and … poof! They revive, good as new, get something to nosh on and then reproduce. They can survive the pressure of the deepest ocean trenches, Arctic cold and the desert.
Water bears, aka tardigrades or mossy piglets, are found in ponds, lakes, moss and lichen and they have been around for very long time — one species was found fossilized in amber in New Jersey. They come in intense orange, red or green colors. A German scientist discovered tardigrades in 1783 and named them kleiner Wasserbär, “little water bears,” because with claws on each of their eight legs, they walk like bears and they have cute, little, red-eyed, bear-like faces.
Like the lilies of the field that toileth not, water bears don’t appear to do anything — nothing seems to eat them; they aren’t a bacterium or a virus; they don’t tote that barge or lift that bale; pile kids in a van and drive them to soccer practice or prevent illness.
They do have fans however — NASA and the European Space Agency love them. Those are the guys who took water bears into the vacuum of space for 10 days and gave them full monty solar radiation exposure. Sixty eight percent of the water bears survived, but with friends like that …
Cute and colorful with nothing in particular to do, pretty much indestructible, don’t take up much room and they can live anywhere — what’s not to like? Except for some truly scary friends who keep trying to kill them by boiling, freezing and starvation, water bears might have a good life.
On the first sunny, warm day in March, I’m also captured by the lady who was walking down the steep curve on Fair Lane Drive, reading a book. Later she walked back up the hill, still completely immersed in her book and apparently oblivious to oncoming vehicles. Does she do this every day? What is she reading? Would I like it? I completely identified with her as I am usually guilty of vacuuming in a starburst pattern while standing in the center of a room reading a book.
Recently I heard about the stories of two very different women. One is a 34-year-old chemist in Massachusetts who worked in the state drug testing lab and is now accused of perjury and obstruction of justice. Her lack of testing, tampering with drug tests and falsifying results over a nine-year period may ultimately affect 34,000 criminal cases. People who were innocent have served prison time while people who are guilty are now being released from prison on appeal.
Parveen Rehmen, director of the most successful non-profit organization to help the poor in Pakistan, was assassinated. Architect and teacher, working in one of Asia’s largest slums that houses almost a million people, she fought to empower her people and protect the land they are packed into from the Pakistani land mafia.
Which of these two women will ultimately have a greater impact? What kind of impact? The incompetent chemist’s name, Annie Dookhan, was easy to find online; Parveen Rehmen took a lot of search. Makes you wonder.
If it makes you wonder, then you’ve been captured.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.