The litter biologist, on her hands and knees in the tropical litter, dips low and smells the moist spicy funk of good rot*. She sees a mosaic of five or six species of leaves, some rounded, some crenulated, in shades of green and brown and the occasional black, one the size of a football but existing only as a lattice of silvery veins, some pinned under a crumbling baguette of a branch sprouting yellow mushrooms and patches of water mold. Slipping her hands into this mixture is like simultaneously sampling an entire produce section of the supermarket: the whisper of dry leaves, the prick of a spine, cool slime, hard crunch, the feathery scuttle of spider making its escape**.
But this is where our foray must stop and our imagination take over. What is that spider seeing? Does she feel first the vibrations of a dozen interconnected leaves before the pink digits slide in, surrounded by an aura of of light? Does our mite smell the onrush of oxygen rich, dry air as her world caroms about? The maddening thing to the litter biologist is that the 3-dimensional world of litter, so delicate, so easily disturbed, is almost impossible to study without, like Heisenberg’s particles, altering them.
But it must be glorious in there, if a little dark.
FADE IN: A megalopolis at night. The aftershocks have long since ceased, but the damage is breathtaking. Fallen skyscrapers have buried the streets and smaller buildings. Slabs of concrete jut askew into the air, silhouetted in the moonlight. Girders erupt from the rubble.
ZOOM IN: Camera switches to night-vision at an entrance formed where the side of one skyscraper has burst open a four-floor apartment like pomegranate. Debris is everywhere, of every conceivable size. Traceries of rebar frame smaller and smaller chunks of debris, moist from the dripping of ruptured pipes. Everything is covered by a thin slime, revealing occasional trails and footprints. The way get’s narrower and narrower, impossibly claustrophobic, as crevices, up, down, right and left, glide by. At this point, there is no “correct” path; the point is to just keep going, to find some place where you can breath. Suddenly, you are there. A silent amphitheater opens where one building is improbably supported by two more on either side of the street. Open space swims around you as the camera, looking upward, sees a crack in the ceiling filled with handful of stars, welcoming and bright after the long darkness. Upwards through the crack…
CRANE SHOT: …and into the sky. Slow panorama as you ascend. The world, all of it, bisected by moonlit rivers, is a chaos of surfaces.
* This is something hard to duplicate. Arboretums like the Crystal Palace up the road in Oklahoma City have the obligatory tropical room, full of palms, bromeliads, Heliconias, and hummingbirds. But they smell like a greenhouse. Tropical forests smell like a microbial riot. You will not anytime soon open a Vanity Fair to one of the thick perfume adverts, lift the sticky strip, and enjoy tropical funk. More’s the pity.
**Some litter biologists prefer to wear gloves.
© 2015 Illustration by Brittany Benson