Let’s get good and grounded before we rocket off here. From my coffee chair, I look down and notice that a just budding chestnut, hidden by a nutty squirrel in the middle of my garden, has added another leaf just since yesterday. It’s a tiny quotidian detail that makes my morning ritual so rich.
I know my yard. I know where my resident garter snake hangs out; I delight in my just opening lilies and the fact that the snap dragons have reseeded themselves; I recognize one of my hummers with his (her?) weird sounding buzz.
In fact: birds in the yard, everywhere! Hummers — zinging back and forth through the sprinkler I shoot skyward for them, zipping around in the droplets — sit on the end of a branch and preen and fluff in the most delightful spectacle. Joy made visible.
Then there’s a visitation from my favorite bather, a robin that I’m convinced learned about my birdbath from his folks last year. He has the most distinctive bathing style: tentative at first, he bounces around on the birdbath edge looking over his shoulder; but once he commits, he flips and thrashes himself and flings water everywhere — not once, not twice, but usually three times. This is his distinctive methodology developed from the very first time his folks brought him to my birdbath. If I had a look into his robin brain, I would guess he was thinking, “OMG, why didn’t somebody tell me about this sooner?!” He love, love, loves splashing in water.
Of course, the robins, the thrush, the wrens, sparrows, crows, mourning doves, blue herons, gulls and terns are also spectacular. Two days ago, I was even treated by a nearly perfectly formed 'V' of pelicans making their way to the ocean.
The resilience of tardigrades
Anyway, this is often how I spend meditative mornings: gazing around the yard, reveling in the bounty of where we live; and this, I’m afraid to say, alternating with checking out the news feed on my iPhone. Hence, the combination of being both pleasantly grounded in Nahcotta by the bay and then tangled up in the world of tardigrades on the moon. (They’ve been in the news lately.) Welcome to Cate’s world.
A little explanation is in order. Tardigrades — pronounced just the way it looks — are millimeter-long creatures that are undoubtedly the most resilient beings on earth. They’re found everywhere from mountains to the sea, from tropical climes to Antarctica. They live in lichens and moss, dunes, beaches, soil, leaf litter, marine and fresh water. From Wikipedia, “Tardigrades, in the case of Echiniscoides wyethi, may be found on barnacles, and can be often found by soaking a piece of moss in water.” (So undoubtedly we must have our own Peninsula tardigrades.)
There are 1,150 different known species and fossil tardigrades from 530 million years ago. They have either six or eight legs with four to eight claws, a sucky-looking mouth, and other strange body dynamics. Some have rhabdomeric eyes (think flies and dragonflies) and sensory bristles on their bodies. First discovered in 1773 by German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze, he called them “water bears;” and in 1777, an Italian Lazzaro Spallanzani, dubbed them Tardigrada, or slow steppers, from which we get our Anglicized name. (If you Google tardigrades, you’ll see that they’ve starred in everything from “Star Trek” to “South Park” — dancing to a Taylor Swift tune, to the “Family Guy.”)
At any rate, the tardigrade main claim to fame is that they can survive extreme temperatures (both high and low), extreme pressures (high and low) radiation, dehydration, no oxygen, and starvation. They have lived though all five past mass extinctions and will undoubtedly survive the sixth extinction (the one we humans are currently causing). So, as you might imagine, scientists have been torturing tardigrades for years to discover their limits.
Oh, and, they have even been sent into space; which is where and how, I think, tardigrades will get their revenge. They will simply take over the Universe.
The human tardigrade?
In April this year an Israeli lunar lander, Beresheet, crashed on the moon carrying both tardigrades and human DNA. Use your imaginations now to fast forward millions or billions of years to a, yes, human-tardigrade hybrid.
Our oversized brains are now housed in a rudimentary segmented body; we have little sucky mouths, high-powered multi-eyeballs, opposable claws on the ends of our eight limbs; and our last set of legs are orientated backwards so we can just grab onto the ground and flex around in the air grabbing stuff — or holding both a book, a sandwich, and our iPhones (or whatever else Apple has come up with). We don’t need to poop — we simply shed our skins (and any excess waste material) every so often.
As tardigrade-humans, we could enter a special state called cryptobiosis — basically tucking in all our legs and drying ourselves out to become “tuns.” As tuns, we can produce a kind of antifreeze, called trehalose, that will allow us to be jettisoned on to other planets, or even to recolonize earth after we destroy it. In the “tun-state,” we could wait decades, maybe even centuries, to come back to life.
The possibilities are endless, especially for sci-fi writers. But then again, isn’t our very own earth, (that created tardigrades and who knows what else we haven’t sufficiently explored yet) just about fantastic enough just as it is?
Jazz and Oysters
And speaking of fantastic, don’t forget that Jazz and Oysters takes place this weekend, Saturday, Aug. 13, noon to 6:30 p.m. at the Nahcotta Boat Basin. This is the 34th annual extravaganza: with food glorious food, local beers, deeply satisfying wines, and plenty of oysters grilled to perfection. If that isn’t enough, groove to the tunes of the North Coast Big Band, Good Company Jazz and crooner extraordinaire Eugenie Jones. Tickets are $25, available at watermusicsociety.com. Bring a chair or blanket and gaze out over our spectacular Willapa Bay, the cleanest estuary and watershed in the nation.
Editor's note: This article previously said the Jazz and Oysters Festival starts at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 13. The festival runs from noon to 6:30 p.m. The article has been updated to reflect the correct time.