“If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Lives turn on little hinges. For my 50th birthday, I was given an old copy of Antony van Leeuwenhoek and his “Little Animals”, by Clifford Dobell. I knew nothing at all about van Leeuwenhoek, but soon found myself enchanted by the life and correspondence of the seventeenth-century Dutch haberdasher who had the eccentric idea of looking at water in a handmade microscope. At the time, I was writing my fourth collection of poetry, and began composing a long piece about Dobell’s book. As I was working on it, I wished I could see for myself what had appeared under van Leeuewenhoek’s lens. My publisher had recently sent me an advance, so I splurged on a mail-order microscope. It came to the door just two days later, and I began looking at the weird little beings in the ponds and ditches of my village. I knew there were invisible critters in the water, but had never seen them. I was like a modern-day seventeenth-century man, gaping in astonishment at the divers animalcules in my optick glass. I wrote about the experience in a poem called “Little Animals,” which was included, along with some other “microscope” pieces, in the book No End in Strangeness.
Since then, my interest in microbes has both intensified and narrowed. Starting from perfect ignorance, I’ve recapitulated within myself the history of the field, clambering up through the centuries, one misconception at a time. Despite having advantages like good modern equipment, and easy access to the latest written work in the field, it has been surprisingly difficult to become even minimally competent.
I started this blog as a place to put protist-related information, ideas, pictures and videos, especially during the five months of the year when my ponds and bogs are covered with ice. In my own inquiries, I’ve been preoccupied with ciliates, mostly, but I promise not to ignore the other groups.