Le Petit Biologiste
The Little Biologist
I awoke, groggy, and disoriented. I struggled to remember just what had happened. But the throbbing of my head wouldn’t permit recollection. From those first moments after the crash, all I remember was what came first; the smell and the taste of sweat, and dirt.
Then came sound. As the ringing in my ears subsided, it was replaced by singing. The liquid, sonorous call of the Oropendola. gradually joined by the buzz of the cicada and the distant roar of the howler monkeys in the distance.
Bit by bit, slowly the world intruded on my senses. A damp heat, brought sweat to my brow, and I could feel my body, aching, swaying gently in a soft breeze.
Lastly, I opened my eyes which I realized were still shut! And what I saw, was my dessin, drawn on a canvas which disappeared over the horizon. “Amongst the rainforest leaves, sultry and green”…roots grew into the sky, and I tried to make sense of this world tilted on its head…
A few moments passed until I realized, I was still buckled into my seat, upside down. I shook my head…well, that was certainly much more reasonable! But still, it was a strange world.
I undid my seatbelt and fell to floor of the cockpit. I felt gravity return, but as I looked up through the moss and epiphyte-laden branches of the canopy, it was reality which occupied a place above the clouds, and now, I had my feet firmly planted in fantasy.
I took a moment to take stock. Something was wrong with the plane’s motor. I was no mechanic, neither did I have any passengers who might help. I was all alone. If I were to survive, I would have to find the solution all by myself to this difficult repair. I looked through the wreckage, I had barely 8 days worth of food. This was a question of life or death.
That first night, I slept in the leaf litter. I was more isolated and alone, than if I had been marooned on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. I awoke the following morning, and took a sip of water from a nearby stream. The waters were still enough that I could see my reflection. My face was bruised, swollen and muddy, leaves still stuck to my hair from my uncomfortable sleep on the forest floor, and my shirt was ripped and pockets torn. A moment of panic possessed me. I had forgotten all about my dessin #1! “This is not reasonable!” I told myself, “You are alone in the middle of the jungle, with little food and no way to get home, why are you worrying about a little drawing?” But that voice, it was a grown-up voice. It was my own, but it was a voice which belonged to another world, above the clouds. Here, in this place, it had grown weaker. It was whisper, and I chose to ignore it.
I retraced my steps back to the plane, and searched the the forest floor for dessin #1, on my hands and knees, sifting the leaf litter. I picked through alien mushrooms, bark and bugs, and fallen branches. I searched and I searched until…“Excuse me Sir, what are you looking for?”
I jumped to my feet as though I had been struck by lightning. I rubbed my eyes, and looked. Really looked at what I was seeing. My eyes widening in wonder. There before me was an altogether extraordinary little fellow. He looked at me, weighing me with great consideration. Here below, is the best portrait of him that I later managed to draw.
Of course my little drawing does little justice to my splendidly charming model. But this can hardly be my fault, after all, I was discouraged early on in my painting career by the grown-ups (if you recall, I was but 6). As such, I never learned how to draw, except for vipers’ pupils, mistaken for moons.
So you can imagine my surprise! Here I was in the middle of the rainforest, a million miles from the nearest inhabited lands, and here, this funny little voice asks me what it is that I am doing! He looked neither lost, nor exhausted. He didn’t appear to be dying of thirst or hunger…nor was he afraid. Honestly, he looked nothing like what I saw before me; A child, lost in the rainforest, a million miles from the nearest inhabited lands.
But before I could get out the question, he asked me one of his own.
“No matter. Sir, could you please draw me a sheep…?”
“I’m sorry”, I interrupted, more clearly this time. “Where did you come from? What is your name? Who are you?”
“Ahem…Please let me finish, it’s not polite to interrupt…”, this peculiar personage instructed with an intensity belying his softly spoken words, and so he repeated:
“Could you please draw me a sheep…botfly”.
Sometimes when the mystery is too impenetrable, it is impossible not to follow the thread to unravel the riddle.
As absurd as the request was (I mean drawing a sheep botfly…whilst staving off thirst, and hunger, and wild animals, a million miles from the nearest inhabited lands, my life in peril, and death a very real danger), I fished into my torn pockets and actually found, to my surprise, a pen and paper. It was not my lost dessin #1, but a blank, and curious page. As I put pen to paper, I had to accept reality. I was a biologist and I had studied Science, Geology, Maths, and Grammar, all very practical. So I told this little fellow (who with his first, and single question had managed to get under my skin and begun the unravelling of a knot that had been tied at the tender age of 6, and which had grown tighter as I grew older, more suffocating as I grew more serious, and more intolerable as I grew more reasonable), “I do not know how to draw”. He answered slowly, as one might address a child “That’s alright. Draw me a sheep botfly”.
As I had never drawn a sheep botfly before in my life, I drew one of the only two drawings I knew how to draw, a viper, with heat sensing pits, and its mouth open, revealing fangs.
He looked at it a moment, shaking his head “No, no, no! I didn’t ask for you to draw me a viper. Don’t you know how dangerous those are! They are sit and wait ambush predators that sense their environment using chemical cues in the environment communicated to the trigeminal nerve via the vomeronasal organ and heat sensing pits which create a rudimentary image based on infrared. I can’t bring a viper back to my place; I might be walking one day, step on it, and be injected with a saliva, modified over evolutionary time into an extremely toxic haemolytic venom via specially adapted solenoglyphous (hollow) fangs. There’s no hospital where I live you know, I need a sheep botfly, please draw me a sheep botfly.”
I was dumbstruck. It took me a few moments before I could recover and draw him the following:
He looked on with interest, then pored over the drawing. After a moment’s thought, he shook his head once more.
“No, that one has has obviously been extracted, and has been too long outside of its host. Look how droopy and sick it looks. Draw me another. ”.
So I drew him this one:
My new friend smiled gently, indulgently, “Now look here” he said pointing to my drawing. “You must surely see, that this is the larva of a simple fly, and not a botfly. It lacks the backwards pointing spines around the thorax which help prevent its removal by the host.
So once again, I redrew him a sheep botfly:
But this one too, like the other was refused.
“This one is too old. You can clearly see that it is a larva in its third-instar from its size and shape”. I would like a sheep botfly that will live for a longtime.
So, frustration setting in, and since I was impatient to start the repairs on my motor, I scribbled him this:
And I told him.
“This is the sheep. The botfly that you want is inside it”.
However, I found myself once again surprised, as I looked into the beaming face of my new friend, and arbiter.
“Perfect! Do you think that maybe the sheep could be a little smaller, I don’t know how much a sheep botfly eats?”
“Because my place is quite small”.
“I’m sure it will be fine, I only drew you a very small sheep”.
He examined the photo very closely now, his nose almost touching the page. “He’s not THAT small…Ha! Look at that, there are even TWO botflies!”
And this is how I came to know the Little Biologist…
Here Ends part II of the Little Biologist
-based on Antoine de St. Exupery’s novella “Le Petit Prince –