Fragments, cuttings, and shards: A bolt out of the blue and the House that Amoeba Built

June 15, 2008

The meeting ran a little late. By the time I filed my story and placed something on the paper’s website and made it home, it was around midnight.

I stretched out on a recliner, thinking wryly that the coffee I had drunk to stay awake on the way home was likely to keep working until one or two in the morning. I cranked up the laptop, watching music videos, and replying to emails.

Kitten Kaboodle chewed on my hand, the one that had been keeping time to the music. She’s at that age, when anything that moves is prey. It’s like having an animated cactus for a pet.

She got crazier and crazier and when she started drawing blood I had to slow her down. Not an easy thing with a cat. She spent the next hour boinging and pouncing all over the house, killing furniture, terrorizing the dust bunnies.

In a way, this is my favorite time of the day, after midnight, when the world shrinks to the reflections on the inside of the library windows, and the big ceiling fan whooshes overhead. The world is somehow, briefly, manageable, a bubble of light rimmed with books and a cat or two, my bloodied hand tap-dancing on the keyboard, words, changelings all, stuttering out past the fatigue and caffeine to the world.


A blistering hot afternoon on U.S. Route 15, heading north on an errand. In the sky, innocuous, puffy white clouds drift in the hazy blue air.

Suddenly, straight ahead, a bolt of lightning, bright blue-white, cracked the sky and tore the air with its incandescent sound and was gone.

I blinked. Did I just see that?

I looked all around…not a storm cloud in sight.

I had read about “bolts from the blue,” but never seen one before. They’re real enough, and can be deadly, particularly to golfers, who might be standing on a hill ready to tee off, hear thunder in the distance and figure they’re safe as long as the storm is not overhead. And then they raise their driver over their heads and the next – not to say last – thing they know…ZAP.

A “Bolt from the Blue” is a regular, General-Issue lightning bolt with a case of wanderlust. The National Severe Storms Laboratory says that the peripatetic bolts come out of the rear end of a thundercloud and can travel up to 25 miles horizontally before it turns earthward and smites something or someone, rather like an afterthought.

Intellectually, I reject anything that hints of the supernatural, from the Jehovan to the impish. Still, lightning out of a clear, blue sky seems rather like a dirty trick, if you ask me.


A good friend who is always making my mind stretch sent me a photo of an amoeba’s house.

Don’t be fooled by the photo. The real thing is the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

This kind of stuff tickles me cross-eyed.

This particular variety of amoeba surrounds its little shapeless body with tee-tiny pebbles and squats happily indoors, doing whatever amoebas do when they’re not eating bits of organic material by wrapping around it and reproducing by splitting in two. Maybe watching Sponge Bob Squarepants re-runs.

Anyway, the little house has a little scalloped doorway and little projections sort of like fins in the back. It’s shaped sort of like a cartoon rocket ship.The House that Amoeba built

This is what Liz said:

“I loved the description of what happens to the second generation – one gets the house and the other gets the pile of building materials that the “parent” saved up to start a new one. It just seemed so humble and simple and fair – and yeah, flabbergasting. It also made me think we probably make too much of our own achievements. We may stack ’em higher, but I’ve never seen anything cuter or sweeter in a house. Just the right size, safe and cozy, mobile, home-made (I almost said “handmade”), a real masterpiece of folk art by some teeny tiny folk.”

No, there’s nothing random about it.”

The “random” remark came about because we both know that Creationists would point at this little house as somehow “proving” that life is way too complicated to have occurred by chance, which is how they misconstrue evolution. But evolution is not a crapshoot. It is perfectly logical – and demonstrable – system of thought. The Creationists might as well argue that the fact that bees wear stripes rather than paisley is proof that god wove the fabric himself.

The little house is a delight, plain and simple, because over billions of years of life on earth, it’s just one of those wonderful surprises that evolved along with the rest of us. And every gasping, wriggling one of us is a freaking miracle.


© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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