Creatures great and small

news: Creatures great and small

THERE IS an old African fable handed down through the generations that illustrates the continent’s sense of inevitable hopelessness. On the bank of a great river, a scorpion asks a crocodile for a lift across to the other side. The crocodile considers the request. “But”, it says, “if I take my eye off you and let you climb on my back, you will sting and kill me”. The scorpion promises not to and the pair set off. Halfway across the river, the scorpion lashes out and buries its deadly thorn in its conveyance. As they are both disappearing below the waves, the crocodile shouts, “Why, why did you do that? Now we are both going to die”. The scorpion replies “That’s Africa my friend …”

Life does not have to be that way. In certain respects we are all masters of our own destinies. We can make a difference, however small, or seemingly insignificant. When darkness threatens to envelop our spirit, it is important to realise that we must survive to fight another day. No matter how hopeless a particular situation may appear it will get better.

The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and many other ancient civilisations believed in any number of gods, steering human destinies, often using their people as mere playthings apparently for amusement. We too are gods or must appear to be so to other inhabitants of our planet. We too can be benevolent, thoughtful or cruel and destructive. There are angels and demons everywhere.

The power we wield became obvious to me the other day. A tiny snail had erred onto a clay tennis court, laboriously heading for its centre, and certain oblivion. An endless, arid desert devoid of an oasis, no reserve teams in sight. How did that snail feel when I carefully picked it up, carried it to the nearest flowerbed and gingerly placed it upon a lush green leaf still glistening with morning dew? Was I not a god? What will other snails think when told of this giant, the incredible flight and legendary salvation of their fellow? They too will have their Hermes, Mars, Thor or Ra. Someone else could quite possibly have just stepped on the snail, brushed it aside or reserved it for lunch, proving that not all gods are good or kind.

Are you? The media reported recently that a boy in England was expelled from school for pulling out a dragonfly’s wings. Draconian or justified? Was he being deliberately cruel or merely childishly thoughtless? When I was five-years-old, I used to kill wasps with a wet cloth and a brick. I had previously stepped into a nest and the startled insects stung me to within an inch of my life provoking a pathological hatred for them in me. At that time, I was too young to realise that they were only defending their home against the inadvertently destructive monster. Later, I took pot shots from an airgun at sparrows with friends, an act altogether more menacing in its intent. I don’t do either anymore. I have grown-up in certain ways, in others I have not, which is my point. Why do some human beings take pleasure in deliberately hurting others, those unable to defend themselves, children and animals, delighting, in some instances, in torture vile enough to turn any right-thinking person’s stomach? Are we gods or the most fiendish of devils, satanic in our pursuits?

Perhaps there were never any gods as such, are no gods, simply aliens from different planets displaying varying personality or character traits. After all, inhuman cruelty has been known since history was first recorded.

At school, we were taught that there are nine planets in our galaxy. This limited knowledge is now ancient history, a 10th, as yet unnamed, planet has been found. And what of that which lies beyond? The North American Space Administration (NASA) has developed the new Spitzer telescope, capable of detecting radiation up to 500 light years away by means of infrared light rays. Over 140 planets have already been indirectly located outside our solar system, the brightest of which are the size of Jupiter completing their earth year cycle in under four minutes. TrES-1, for example, is approximately 150 light years away – a huge distance. For us, so far completely out of reach. But put into perspective, just as a snail finds the epic journey across the tennis court insurmountable, a matter of a few strides for us, others may consider this enormous gulf no more difficult to bridge than hopping over a ditch. Astrophysicists predict that a planet featuring similar conditions to those on earth will be discovered within 20 to 30 years. What will we find on it?

Over the centuries, thousands of UFO sightings have been reported – possibly aliens travelling to and from our insignificant, tiny planet. Last year, panic broke out in the Alentejo following the passage of several mysterious lights across the clear night sky, although I am at a loss to understand why our highly advanced, maybe ancestors, would seek out one of Europe’s poorest and most arid regions. Perhaps they were just en route to somewhere else, even Scotland! A study has revealed that taking the high road to Bonnybridge in Falkirk would place you in the most UFO struck town in Britain. This is THE hotbed of extraterrestrial activity, a local fireman even witnessing ‘Foo Fighters’, tiny orbs of intense light, first reported by airmen during WWII. Bonnybridge has become so well-known for its sightings that it now wants to be twinned with Roswell, the US location synonymous with other world encounters for over half a century. At Cley Hill in Wiltshire, sightings of brightly lit flying objects known locally as ‘the thing’, span 50 years, while in Bedhampton, Hampshire, hundreds of white, hovering shapes were filmed in 2002. In fact, up to 40,000 Britons and four million Americans, claim to have been kidnapped by visitors from outer space to this day. Is ‘someone’ taking ‘samples’?

The more I think about it, the more I observe the futile, sometimes savage and short-sighted, everyday strivings of the human race, the more convinced I become that the gods are not from here. Why do we persist in killing, raping and torturing each other and our planet with our words and actions. Why does the laughter always have to die? Our world, our ‘civilisation’, is no more than someone else’s laboratory experiment, a warning to creatures past and future, great and small.

I will be back with some more down-to-earth observations next time. Don’t worry, I am not about to transform myself into a space probe. Still, do keep an eye out for that snail or anyone else to whom you may seem to have supernatural proportions!