musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I Was a Human Fruitfly

There's no such thing as too many books. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as not enough shelf space. And so, with heavy heart and ruthless attitude, I've been sorting through my stacks with intent to purge. This is not a simple task. Beyond three bookcases chock-full of absolute 'keepers', there are tottering piles of books on cupboard shelves accessible only with ladder and flashlight (and dust mask); there are boxes of books on the floor of my clothes closet doing double duty as shoe display racks; there's an entire twenty-nine volume set of Braun's 'Cat Who' mysteries stowed fittingly in Sam the Cat's favourite footstool. I could go on but you're probably wondering what all this has to do with a fruitfly. Let me explain.

In one of those tottering, top-shelf piles, I discovered a book I haven't thought of in years: a 1987 memoir by Canadian scientist and environmental activist, David Suzuki. In METAMORPHOSIS, Suzuki shares the story of his early years, the impact of his family's forced relocation and internment with other Japanese-Canadians during World War II, his passion for science and research, and his growing awareness of the damage inflicted on our planet by humanity.

Sam the Cat ponders the mysteries of Metamorphosis.
Sam the Cat ponders the mysteries of Metamorphosis
(because, apparently, a blog post is not complete without a cat)

I was a young mother in 1987, living what I hoped was an environmentally responsible life as a back-to-the-lander in rural Markham, Ontario. When news broke that David Suzuki would be speaking at the local Legion hall on his book tour, I was among the first in line for tickets.

The hall was filled to capacity on the evening of his visit and Dr. Suzuki spoke to a rapt and appreciative audience. What I remember most vividly about the man was his passion for his science. He fairly sparkled with enthusiasm as he told us about his early days of research, studying what he believed to be one the most remarkable and beautiful of all creatures: the lowly fruitfly.

He seemed particularly fascinated with the eyes, explaining that fruitfly genetic material can be thought of as a series of discs, each pre-programmed for a specific function. "If an eye disc is injected into a larva's gut, then when that larva becomes an adult, it will carry an eye in its abdomen." *

Suzuki gazed out at his audience. 'Oh, the eyes! If you ever have a chance to look at a fruitfly's eyes through a high-powered microscope... absolutely beautiful!' He scanned the crowd, then pointed a finger directly at me. 'You,' he said, 'lady with the red sweater. Please stand up.'

Thinking I would honestly prefer to sink right through the floor (I was extremely shy), I stood.

'This,' he said, pointing at me again, 'is a fly's eye.' The crowd and I laughed. I'm sure I blushed the colour of my red sweater, too, but Suzuki waved us all into silence.

'When you see a fruit fly in your kitchen, you probably think of it as a tiny, brown, annoying speck. But revealed by the microscope the fly's eye is a multi-faceted jewel, red and shining and every bit as bright and lovely as this lady's sweater.'

Dr. Suzuki thanked me and I subsided, feeling a bit like that fly pinned under a microscope. I don't remember much of what he said after that, but I joined the line to buy his book and waited for an autograph.

It was worth the wait.

"To the lady with the flies eyes - Best wishes - David Suzuki
"To the lady with the flies eyes. Best wishes - David Suzuki"

And that's the true story of how I became a fruitfly for David Suzuki. What's the strangest or most memorable book inscription you've ever received?

*Quote from METAMORPHOSIS: Stages in a Life by David Suzuki (Stoddart, Canada, 1987)

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At 3:24 pm, Anonymous Susan McNicoll said...

Sam thought he was the whole story and the rest of it was gratuitous! What an absolutely delightful story - of reading, a book, an evening and a wonderful memory, to say nothing of an awesome inscription. I wish I had one that even came close.

At 6:22 pm, Blogger Cheryl said...

Yes, I'm sure you're right about Sam's view of things. Cats will be cats! I'm wondering, now, what other gems I may have forgotten. Thanks for visiting, Susan.


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