Finding the universe in a grain of sand

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I was inspired recently by a segment of “Nat Geo Amazing!”, a National Geographic television series that looks at some of the most incredible moments ever captured on film. One particular item caught my full attention initially by way of the beauty of the photography.

An incredible photographer, David Liittschwager, searched for and impressively photographed all living creatures contained within the confines of one single cubic foot (35.5 centimetres) of earth, vegetation and water taken from six vastly different places on our planet. He wanted to display the incredible diversity of life in small spaces. One cubic foot is a very small territory in which to look for diverse life.

He proceeded to take samples from Central Park, New York City, from the ocean’s coral reef, from the top of trees in the forests of Monte Verde, from the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica, from the Table Mountains in South Africa, and from the waters of the Duck River in Tennessee.

It took three weeks of painstaking work to meticulously comb through all of the samples of earth and vegetation looking for life forms. Unbelievably complex, colourful, beautiful and miniscule creatures, some no bigger than a pencil point, were gently coaxed out of their hiding places in the cube samples. Tiny insects were carefully extracted with tweezers. Each insect, leaf, flower, bird or aquatic specimen was identified with the able assistance of a biologist. Keeping these tiny animals still for their turn on camera was a challenge.

Incredibly, David photographed over 1,000 organisms found in the tiny one-cubic-foot samplings from our amazing planet Earth.

He started this project because he wanted people to understand and appreciate the complexity of ecosystems underfoot and around us everywhere. He wanted to capture his findings on film to help increase awareness of and appreciation for the diversity of life on earth.

For me, it also underscored the need for our respect and care of these systems. It made me even more acutely aware of the immense destruction underway to ecosystems in our own communities and lands where entire land masses, marshlands, fields and forests are flattened, excavated and trashed to make way for industry, roadways and houses. I don’t see much evidence of replacing and restoring nature to these places in any significant way. Ordinary citizens like me are often observers who watch helplessly as this goes on, but nobody talks about it very much, except when you drive past yet another excavation.  

Just saying.  

This short film was thought-provoking, to say the least.


Jane Grant

Mount Pearl

Organizations: National Geographic

Geographic location: Central Park, New York City, Monte Verde Costa Rica South Africa Duck River

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