OK, look. You're up to your neck in it, right? Too much white noise, too many demands on your time, too many drains on your brainpower, too much scandal and guns and stress and tech and not in a good way because you're all up in the world and the world is all up in you and sometimes you spin and spit and whirl and just can't seem to find the ground. I know how it is.
But then something happens. Sometimes, somehow, these little gems of yes slither on through, these little snaps to the bra strap of your id, a pinch to the butt of your jaded perspective and you blink once or twice and snap out of your lethargic, frenzied turmoil, even just for a second, and your head clears and your karma tingles and you see anew.
It can happen. It's still possible. Like when you see, for the very first time in your life, for the very first time in anyone's life, a very weird, oddly beautiful, blond, blind, fur-covered sea creature no one's ever seen before in the history of humanity, so far as we know.
Did you notice? Did you see the picture? It's very possible you missed it because it was just a tiny news story from a couple of weeks ago, an entirely new crustacean discovered 7,500 feet down in waters 900 miles south of Easter Island in the South Pacific, a creature so unlike anything previously discovered that scientists had to create an entirely new genus for it, Kiwa hirsuta, named after the goddess of crustaceans in Polynesian mythology.
Big deal? Maybe not. But then again, maybe. Maybe it's something to which you should pay some divine, gleeful attention. Maybe all you have to do is look a little closer. Maybe it's absolutely mandatory that we remember how to do so. You think?
Kiwa hirsuta is just a little bit mesmerizing, strange, stirs up something deep and potent. An eyeless, albino, crablike animal, sublime and magical and perfect in its alien weirdness, about 6 inches long with forearms sticking straight out of its torso and extending twice the length of its body, with those forearms and its legs all covered in a silky blond fur, like something straight out of a medieval bestiary, a Sendak book, a Castaneda shaman's peyote dream.
It's not a lobster. It's not a crab. It's not anything anyone really understands -- and why is it covered in silky blond hair? They don't know that, either. It just is. Just one of those things. Like why the whales sing. Like why some parrots can tell you who's calling before you pick up the phone. Like the existence of dark matter. We just don't know. And what's more, the sheer volume, the breathtaking amount of information we don't know is so mind-boggling and perspective-humping that you take one look at the Kiwa and only say, "Hi, again, wicked, gorgeous, unimaginable vastness of the universe."
I remember reading an essay not all that long ago about the cultural phenomenon of disappearing knowledge, about how there are only a finite number of true experts on certain very specific topics in the scientific and natural world, people who know some very deep things about some very crucial but slightly arcane or unpopular subjects, but who haven't yet had a chance to record all of what they know in books or on a Web site, and when those people die, so dies the information. Their few books go out of print. Their research fades away. There is no Wikipedia entry to archive their findings. There is no one to take up the thread. Their invaluable wisdom essentially vanishes.
Knowledge, we have to realize, is not fixed in stone. It is ephemeral and exists only so long as we pump it with meaning. It is merely part of the mad, vaporous wheel of existence, an ongoing cycle of discovering and forgetting, of lurching forward and then stumbling back and standing up again and taking everything we think we know and packing it into a little puffy snowball and hurling it at the head of the Future in the hopes that the Future will turn around and unbutton its liquid trench coat and show us something surprising. Or maybe just laugh and return fire. It's pretty much all we can do.
How many thousands of species are as yet undiscovered in the world's oceans? How many tens of thousands of undiscovered plants and animals exist in the rain forests? What about the capacities of the human mind, the mystery of the dream state or the immensity of space, the knowledge that the tiny portion of our galaxy we've been able to see and measure, our entire solar system is merely the equivalent of a grain of sand on the edge of a beach stretching for roughly 1 billion miles?
Are you exercising the muscle of wonder? Is this synapse firing in your head every damn day? Are you aware of how much you are not aware of and are you completely humbled and amused and made drunk and giddy and turned on by this fact? Because let me tell you, it is easy to forget.
Kiwa hirsuta is, in short, a reminder. Of how little we know. Of how much we have forgotten. Of the wonders that exist everywhere, from oak leaf to vestigial tailbone. Of how we have to remember to look around, to cultivate the skill, the ability to see, lest we slowly go blind.
Some say we have lost our power to be awed. We are too jaded, too saturated with media images and the relentless barrage of unspeakable war horrors, too soaked in the info overload of the Internet to be able to process and filter and pick out the gems and stand back and say, "Oh my God, would you look at that, and what might that mean, and isn't that just the most amazing thing and doesn't it put everything in a fresh perspective, just for a minute?"
I say that's utter BS. We are never too far gone. I say it is merely a switch inside, a slight shift in the perspective, a reactivation of that portion in the human soul that, when slapped awake and re-energized and detoxified, will suddenly remember how easy it is to be continuously, calmly, deliriously amazed.
E-mail Mark Morford at [email protected].