A reading from The Overstory by Richard Powers. 2018, p. 124.
It’s a miracle,” she tells her students, photosynthesis: a feat of chemical engineering underpinning creation’s entire cathedral. All the razzmatazz of life on Earth is a free-rider on that mind-boggling magic act. The secret of life: plants eat light and air and water, and the stored energy goes on to make and do all things. She leads her charges into the inner sanctum of the mystery: Hundreds of chlorophyll molecules assemble into antennae complexes. Countless such antenna arrays form up into thylakoids discs. Stacks of these discs align in a single chloroplast. Up to a hundred such solar power factories power a single plant cell. Millions of cells may shape a single leaf. A million leaves rustle in a single glorious gingko.
Too many zeros, their eyes glaze over. She must shepherd them back over that ultrafine line between numbness and awe.
“Billions of years ago, a single, fluke, self-copying cell learned how to turn a barren ball of poison gas and volcanic slag into this peopled garden. And everything you hope, fear and love became possible.” They think she’s nuts, and that’s fine with her. She’s content to post a memory forward to their distant futures, futures that will depend on the inscrutable generosity of green things.
Recorded July 15, 2020
Location: Belchertown, MA