Snowmanticism

Today is a day of baking smells (cinnamon rolls for breakfast, fresh baked rosemary bread for lunch, cupcakes in a pile waiting for afterwards,) TV catching up, and cursing comic book artists for making outfits that are hard to copy.

It is also a day for looking out of the window at the eiderdown of snow that fell on the city overnight.

We walked through the snow, Ana and I, last night on returning from gaming night in Manhattan. It was early for a gaming night – midnight rather than two – because of the incoming storm that we didn’t want to be stranding by. And as he went into MacDonalds to get himself a snack, vegetarian little me stood outside, snug as an aphid in an afghan, in my Hunter wellingtons, winter coat, and big fluffy wolf hat. I buried my feet into the fluffy virgin blanket and looked up, squinting into the swirl of snowflakes that was making the night that special kind of grey you only get from snow and streetlights.

Up to 85% of all snowflakes have grown around a bacteria at their center, and as I watched them swirl around me, I reflected on what it meant to be surrounded by uncountable things that were once living. Of course, bacteria and other microbes float around unseen and unperceived all the time, but when they’re surrounded by delicate fluffy crystals, it’s hard to ignore it.

I’ve been thinking a bit about life recently, and my definition of it, and I don’t know when it happened, but I no longer think of ‘life’ as a discrete quantity. Not for me the concept of “a life,” separate from the others, and by extension, not ‘my life’ or ‘your life’ or ‘his life,” but a continuum, magical in my inability to sufficiently explain life to start with.

It’s easy to count the life withing this sack of skin as one, but even my body is a complex machine of symbiotics, not just the bacteria I play host to, but trillions of identical mitochondria, genetically distinct from he nucleus that dictates most of my proteins, but as vital to the functioning of this body as anything else.

I’ve been accidentally poking my head into that corner of the internet that deals with the politics surrounding the ‘beginning’ of life, and it doesn’t fit with me. Of course a human cell that divides is alive. Of course we can’t count each cell and call them distinct. Of course genetic distinction doesn’t make distinct lives any more than identical twins are one person. The life in this body isn’t a thing my parents created, it’s part of a thing that they shared with me. And while this body is temporary, and I may or may not share with the next generation in quite the same way, when I stand in the snow, enjoying the moment when trillions of living things are for once visible to my eye, I’m happy to share it with all of them.

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