Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/632

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

below the reach of the eyesight of man. Let some of the decaying stuff fall into standing water, and there, under the hot summer sun, slowly dissolve. Put, then, a single drop of this water under the microscope, and let us try to rediscover the fibers and flesh of our tree. Lo! instead of this dead matter we behold a swarming, writhing, twisting, shooting, creeping sea of life, thousands, millions of living forms into which Nature has transformed her seeming organic waste: the rod-like bacteria, the boat-like diatom, the globe-like volvox, the line-like algæ among vegetables; and among animals the arm-making amoeba, the whip-lash monad, the shelled and twisted foraminifera, the strangely-varied infusorian; there, where to the unaided eye all seemed death and stagnation, lies a bewildering phantasmagoria of created things, life crowding in indescribable multitudes and numberless variety out of the heart of death, the eaters and the eaten in innumerable profusion. Such is the full cycle of the life of our tree; such the boundless variety produced by Nature's economical administration of her materials.

But let us not imagine that we have yet exhausted the subject. Nature is in no readier mood to waste animal than vegetable food. It also must do its duty in widening out the circle of life. Animals prey on animals. Alive and dead they are eaten and re-eaten. Animal, like vegetable life, is turned again and again into new life, until every atom of it has had all its vitality squeezed out, and has fallen, bit by bit, back into the inorganic world.

The carnivora equal, if they do not exceed, the herbivora in number. The flesh which the latter has formed out of plant material the former rends and consumes, turning it into new animal forms. And so the endless metempsychosis of life goes on, the great preying upon the small, the greater upon the great, and man indiscriminately upon all, little that is eatable escaping his omnivorous appetite.

It is all one to Nature. She is determined that there shall be no waste, that none of her laborious efforts to build the organic out of the inorganic world shall be for naught, and that the utmost abundance and most endless variety of life shall flow into being out of the bosom of the inanimate.

It is not alone the battle of the great upon the small, the strong upon the weak. The small as well make their harvest upon the bodies of the great. As minute plants feed upon great trees, so do the midges upon the giants of the animal world.

Insects are not content with preying upon one another—spiders dragging their nets through the air for unwary flies, ant-lions digging sand-craters for curious ants, ichneumon-flies nestling their young in the bodies of fat caterpillars—but they prey as persistently upon the world of giant animals.

Look at these minute pests of man, for instance. How little Nature seems inclined to exempt her best and highest from the inexorable