Speaking of resurrection, a news story I saw on Agade, apparently originating in the New York Times, tells of dates. The kind you eat. These dates were newsworthy because they were grown from seeds two millennia old, found in an archaeological dig in Israel. The story shows just how tenacious life can be. Seeds dead for centuries came back to life and bore fruit. Things like this fill me with an optimism about this thing we call life. Two thousand years is a long time to be buried. These seeds nevertheless came back when the conditions were right. There’s a parable here. The parable of the dates.
Tardigrades are remarkable. Sometimes known as “water bears” or “moss piglets,” they are actually microscopic animals. Google them and take a look. The amazing thing about tardigrades is their ability to survive. Although they are animals, they can go three decades without food or water. (Not quite the same as two millennia, but trees have their own remarkable abilities.) Tardigrades can survive temperatures as low as absolute zero and higher than boiling. Scientists study what makes these little critters so sturdy, but the takeaway for me is that life is remarkably resilient. Given that Republicans and their ilk seem set on destroying the planet, it is comforting to know that life will continue, even if without our particular species to appreciate it.
The idea has been expressed in many ways over the years. Doctor Malcolm in Jurassic Park says “Life will find a way.” Stephen Jay Gould wrote in Bully for Brontosaurus that when we talk of the destruction of the earth what we really mean is the end of our own survival. The planet—life—can and will persist. The funny thing is that we don’t really have an accurate understanding of what life is. If a tardigrade can be revived after thirty years without water, isn’t this an exuberant expression of what life can do? And what about the Galapagos Tortoise, surviving a century-and-a-half? If we leave them alone, sea creatures can live even longer. Bowhead whales last two hundred years while at least one Greenland shark doubled that. And the news story about dates raised from two-thousand-year-old seeds indicates something wondrous about life. It persists. These dates are from the time of Jesus and the Roman Empire. Some trees, such as the bristlecone pine, have been continuously alive for double that span. We should be in awe of life. And we should act like it, for it will outlive us by a long stretch.