Friday, September 6, 2013

Golden Prose

One of the reasons I love the New York Times is the high quality of the writing. There are two journalists who regularly have bylines in the Tuesday Science sections. One, Nicholas Wade, tends to write about archeological topics (I have one of his books). The other, Dennis Overbye, usually writes about physics and astronomy in ways that I at least come close to understanding.

I look forward to Tuesdays and often clip out articles that intrigue me. Sometimes, the items are very small. A few months ago there was a photo with a one-sentence caption reporting that one species of South African dung beetle was proven to use stars to navigate.

Think about it. Is there anything lower than a dung beetle? Is there anything higher than stars?

Months later there was another item proposing that gold was created by the collision of stars. Wow. Talk about stardust melody!

I was pleased to note that these two tidbits intrigued Mr. Overbye as well. He melded them into an article with the headline: “Stars, Gold, Dung Beetles and Us.” Without his permission, I here quote: “It's hard to imagine a more beautiful or humbling connection between the sacred and the profane, the microscopic and the large, inner space and outer space.

“The Milky Way is one of natures' greatest creations … And it is only one of countless galaxies, scattered like sand from here to eternity, rushing outward in the great expansion, whose meaning... is as fathomless to us as it is to a scarab pushing its (ball of dung)...

“Scarabs were sacred to the ancient Egyptians for the ability to create life from waste. They were a symbol of the eternal renewal of life from death, not unlike the waxing and the waning of the stars themselves.

“Egyptians wore representations of them as amulets. And wouldn't you know, in one of the ultimate symbols of recycling, some of them were even gold.”

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