Wednesday (October 24), I took some time to focus on and follow the slow progress of a tiny sow bug as it meandered through the leaf-littered landscaping of a Fairview apartment building.
“Sow bug” is a Western Canadian slang for this little land-loving crustacean that goes by dozens of nicknames around the world but is properly called a woodlouse—in English at least.
Woodlice/sow bugs exist, with slight variations, everywhere on Earth but all of them are dressed in segmented armour that allows them to roll up into perfect little balls for all-around protection.
The armour on the one I saw Wednesday was delicately translucent.
Call my stopping to watch a little isopod (not much longer than my thumbnail) what you will: a hiatus (I was returning from cashing in a morning’s worth of binned returnable beverage containers), a meditation, or a good photo opportunity—it was, in fact, all of those things.
Of course life largely went on while I stopped.
Big, boxy delivery vehicles and even bigger garbage collection trucks went about their noisome business in the alleys surrounding me. Deeper in those alleys, many of my homeless peers were still hard at work collecting discarded beverage containers for their nickel-and-dime return values.
And this being “Welfare Wednesday”, other impoverished and homeless people were living like kings for a day on the proceeds of their just-issued monthly welfare or disability benefits.
But while I adopted a bug’s-eye-view of the world, my everyday reality of binning and garbage trucks and homelessness faded into the periphery of my consciousness.
You can only focus on one reality at a time
The sow bug and I may exist physically in the same world but that does not mean we share the same reality—any more than homeless binners and bank presidents.
Thanks to extreme differences of scale and perception, the sow bug and I live in separate realms of existence—separate experientially and, I guess, existentially but entirely overlapping physically.
If the medium is the message—as Canadian philosopher and academic Marshall McLuhan famously proclaimed—then similarly, perhaps, one’s scale in the world is one’s reality.
The sow bug and I were in similar relative position to the two-dimensional beings and three-dimensional beings in Edwin Abbot’s Victorian fable of dimensions Flatland.
The two-dimensional creatures imagined by Abbot can never wholly perceive, nor comprehend, the intrusion into two-dimensional space of his comparatively omniscient three-dimensional beings.
The overall comparison, however, falls short. Abbot’s three-dimensional beings can look into the two-dimensional ones. I couldn’t quite do that with the sow bug, even with its semi-transparent, chitinous armour.