Page 89 - Vol. VI #2
P. 89

 were, mostly, wooden planks nailed to vertical and horizontal two-by-fours. The upper half of one wall was, appropriately, metal chicken wire. When the boy had been inside one winter day, he noticed that this wire mesh was hexagon shaped, just like honey bee comb. The coop was used for storage. Large bags of fertilizer and seeds were neatly stacked, for reasons of convenience and safety, near the door. In the summer, the chicken coop was dangerous.
“The chicken coop was about one-
third the size of the house, be er painted, more substan al.”
 The problem was those horizontal two-by-fours. Wasps loved to build their paper nests underneath these boards and strongly resented anyone, wit- tingly or unwittingly, approaching.
For the rest of the boy’s birthday and for several days thereafter, spare time was devoted to getting used to Rick. His mother did not explain why she had named the dog Rick (sometimes Ricky) and
no one thought to ask. Having a dog in the house, however, meant that the boy had many questions. What should the puppy eat? His mother’s answer was that new gravy train dry dog food where you just add warm water to get a delicious stew (at least the boy thought that the puppy found it deli- cious). Next question: why did Rick want to stand in his stew and then track it all over the house? There was no answer, but a partial solution was newspa- pers on the floor and often confining Rick to a large cardboard box. This solution also helped when
the boy noticed that Rick was not housebroken. I could go on, but it was not all bad. Rick was cute, affectionate, and loved to play. The boy could not stay mad at Rick, but the first few days were chaos. Then, one evening while Rick was asleep, the boy’s mother sat down. She was holding the last present the boy had opened, the forgotten book.
A cell is so large that, whether or not it lives in a man or a wood bee, it may well be able to support the chemical reactions needed, not just to make life possible, but to actually think. The power of neural networks made up of many cells tied to- gether is close to infinite.
The book, his mother told him, was Lad: A Dog, by Albert Terhune. That night, she read the first of the twelve stories in the book, sitting beside the boy, moving her finger under each word as she spoke. The story was so much more than “see Spot run.” For the first time, reading was not just a chore to be endured at school.
Living cells, such as neurons, are really HUGE. To understand why I say this, let me relate some- thing I read recently: If the diameter of a human hair were expanded to the height of the Empire State Building, a DNA molecule (which is made up of a large number of atoms and is usually found within the nucleus of a cell) would be the size of the toenail of a small dog sitting in the lobby. The “similar molecules within a cell” that I was talking about are much smaller, made up of a few dozen or a few hundred atoms.
If a scientist were small enough to enter the lobby of this little Empire State Building residing in a human hair and pet the small dog on the head,
he would have to sit down at a table and peer through his microscope to see these molecules. In this context, the living cell is very large.
The boy’s mother promised to read him the next story the very next night. The boy was taking arithmetic at school. He could imagine one story
a night—twelve nights to read the book. It turned out that the reading was much more sporadic. Rick
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