The Little Biologist – Part I

Le Petit Biologiste
The Little Biologist

When I was six years old, I once saw a wonderful drawing in a book. It was book on the Amazon called “Lives lived”. It showed, amongst the rainforest leaves, sultry and green, an anaconda swallowing a capybara whole and the description read, “The anaconda eats its prey whole, without chewing. After which it cannot move, and must sleep for the next six months in order to digest its meal”.

I thought long and often of this book of jungle adventures, and in time, I too succeeded in creating my own drawing. With a coloured pen, I drew the following, my dessin # 1. It looked like this:

I showed my masterpiece to the grown ups, and asked them if my drawing made them scared. And they answered, “What a beautiful moon! Why would the moon make me scared?”

Only my dessin #1 wasn’t a moon set in a starry sky. It was the vertical pupil of a pit viper, as it lay in wait. So I drew, the heat sensing pits, the scales and a forked tongue which tasted the chemical composition of the air, drawing in scent molecules into the organ of Jacobson. I drew the open mouth and the fangs, so that they could see and understand. I called this my dessin #2.

Amazon two striped palm viper (Bothriopsis bilineata) 1

Only the grown-ups, they still needed to be explained things. They told me to forget such silly things, to study geography, maths and grammar, practical things!

Thus, at the tender age of six, I left behind a promising career as a painter. I was discouraged by the failures of my dessin #1 and dessin #2. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for us kids to always, ALWAYS have to explain them everything.

As I grew up, I looked back on painting with regret, but turned my attention to other, more grown-up pursuits. This is how I became a biologist, and learned to fly planes. I have flown all over the world and indeed, as I was told, geography and science have served me well. From a simple glance, I can distinguish the Amazon from Arizona, and Canada from Kazakstan. I can name the stars and the planets, and explain the twinkle of the stars and from the celestial heavens, define my place in the world. All very useful, if one is lost in the night.

Over the course of my life, I have had heaps of conversations with some very serious, very intelligent people. I have lived with great men and women. I have seen and observed them closely, and frankly, it hasn’t much improved my opinion of being grown-up.

But, every now and again, I would come across someone who appeared a little more in touch with the world, a little less grumpy and grown-up, and then I would take out my dessin #1, which I had never thrown away, and which I keep carefully concealed in my pocket, close-by, a reminder of a world of dreams which escaped me once, but which one day I might find my way back to. And so, I would show this very reasonable person my dessin, and I would ask them, “What do you see?”.

I wanted to know, to really know, “did they understand? Just how much did they really see?” I would wait patiently as they examined my artwork, but I was always disappointed. Every time, without exception, they would answer, “why it’s a moon, why?”. And with that answer, I would carefully fold up my dessin #1, and put it back in my pocket, and I wouldn’t talk to them of anacondas and the Amazon, of stars and a world populated by dreams. I would nod or shake my head, smile or frown, and we would talk about golf and the weather, of suits, work and politics. And when we parted company, they would shake my hand, quite happy to have met someone so reasonable and mature. All the while, my hand would pat the pocket wherein resided the world of dessin #1, safely tucked away.

I have lived this way, alone, my entire life, the world of dessin #1 relegated to my pocket, dreaming of a drawing, but speaking to a world all grown-up, that is, until my plane crashed in the rainforest 6 years ago. I heard the motor break, but could do nothing to stop the descent. I felt the familiar vanish as we passed through the cumulus. Aerodynamics, sheer, wind speeds, terminal velocities, reality-raced to second place, outpaced by the surreal. The known world ceded to mystery.  In the final moment, as the engines screamed, and the trees welcomed us, I sensed my hand go instinctively to my pocket, searching for dessin #1, even as I felt the brief flutter of paper through my fingertips as we hit the ground.

-Here Ends part I of the Little Biologist

-based on Antoine de St. Exupery’s novella “Le Petit Prince” –