This amazing image is a mouse embryo, shown in both visible and ultraviolet light to show the biochemical difference between the embryo (pink) and its yolk sac (green). The picture, by Gloria Kwan of Memorial-Sloan Kettering Institute, won first place in the Nikon 2007 "SmallWorld" competition. (The others are cool, too.)
Why a mouse embryo, you ask? Well, it spoke to me on several levels.
1. I really, really wish I had a camera that could take great ultra-close-up shots like this.
2. "Mouse fetus" is an incredibly funny phrase, especially since Spouse and I used it years ago to refer to our erstwhile New York Senator, Al D'Amato. (Although there is some physical resemblance, we coined the term after searching for some perfect expression of his moral smallness. )
2. We're overdue for the first cold snap, when the mice will come in and look for winter quarters in the CrazyStable. Now I will feel even more guilty when the cats get one (which isn't very often, but then Charlie is untried--so far, his skills with a catnip training dummy have been impressive).
3. When you live in a very big house, as in a very big cosmos, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and insignificant. Some people get depressed after a space show at the planetarium--impressive, sure, but who am I when our whole solar system is just a speck in the known universe? And who are we to contemplate refinishing three thousand square feet of wretched flooring? Chesterton assured us that it was, in fact, a "cozy cosmos," but when that wisdom escapes me, I go microscopic in my metaphysics. The mighty and unfeeling God who tossed off the Milky Way also figured out how to layer the keratin on my hair shafts and regulate the passage of calcium ions across my cell walls to keep my heart beating. When I stare down the throat of one of my "Grandpa Ott" morning glories, His glory leaps out at me--without that numbing sense of my own littleness.
4. I attribute part of my fascination with things "micro" to my own superpower--"Supermicrovision." I am legally blind without my corrective lenses--we're talking "couldn't cross the street"--but I have astonishing visual acuity at the end of my nose. I can practically see freakin' cells divide. One joy of being stuck with glasses again after years of contact lenses is the ability to whip them off and indulge in stuff like the glistening globules of an orange section or the hairs on a bee's knees. Dead mice are cool, too, especially their toenails (although I have fortunately not had the chance to examine any unborn ones).
5. Speaking of unborn, I love unborn critters. I was one myself, once. No word on whether the scrupulously tenderhearted folks at PETA have taken Nikon to task for any possible "cruelty" involved in harvesting this little fellow for his photo op; I suspect they'll back off, given the "slippery slope" involved. (Nat Hentoff once famously asked his fellow liberals to "think of the [human] fetus as a baby seal.") Perhaps my passion for things microscopic and meticulously constructed (dare I say designed?) has been the driver for my pro-life passion; all you need is a microscope to see plenty of "inconvenient truth" about the smallest and most vulnerable among us.
(Thanks to Dappled Things for the tip on the Nikon contest!)