Why is it that when I contemplate something very small like a ladybug I don’t necessarily feel large? Even were I the type, and I’m not, to call it a “wee beastie”, I still wouldn’t feel much larger. But put me beside something large, and suddenly I am small.
Admittedly it has to be pretty large. Part of the issue is that we can percieve objects so many magnitudes larger than ourselves but the other direction is fairly limited.
I remember once years ago snorkeling for the first time in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I had spent some time amongst hundreds of brightly coloured fish only meters from the shore, and decided to go a little further out. I slowly swam out and suddenly the ocean floor dropped away, like going over a cliff, and where once was light was a endless darkening deep, and I was struck with the immensity of the ocean, the impossible depth and breadth of it, and the fragility of my own existence. As I floated over the drop, my stomach fell as my mind palled at the idea of what great creatures must be lurking in such a huge space.
The expanse of the ocean, or the size of a whale or a mountain; these all can make you feel small. And oddly enough, feeling small is on some level comforting. Isn’t meditation at times the contemplation of the infinite and eternal?
I just know that large things make me feel at home in the universe. Could it be that they remind us of our rightful place in the order of things?
But all in all, large nature is something special. In the urban environment, nature appears in the cracks and crannies; if there is a river it has been slowed. The only everpresent enormity is the sky and the clouds. Outside the city, and on the edge of the lucky, you might have the ocean.
The other reason I like large nature is that it gives you a sense of real competition. We know there are lots of spiders in the world but in many places, we don’t see that many, and when we do, its one here and there. Not like this 24 hectares of spider web in British Columbia or this occurrence in Texas where the mass of web was reported to have blocked out the sun in places.
This thinking about the large was initiated by this article from New Scientist about the fungus in Oregon that could be the largest organism on Earth.
Next time you purchase white button mushrooms at the grocery store, just remember, they may be cute and bite-size but they have a relative out west that occupies some 2,384 acres (965 hectares) of soil in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Put another way, this humongous fungus would encompass 1,665 football fields, or nearly four square miles (10 square kilometers) of turf.
The discovery of this giant Armillaria ostoyae in 1998 heralded a new record holder for the title of the world’s largest known organism, believed by most to be the 110-foot- (33.5-meter-) long, 200-ton blue whale. Based on its current growth rate, the fungus is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years, which would earn it a place among the oldest living organisms as well.
There is the size of what you’d think was a large planet and sun compared with the neighbors.
Feeling small yet?