Episodes of Beauty

Kage Baker was big on the idea of the Circle of Life.

Partly this was because she was a rabid, if episodic, Disney fan. She was raised on Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Fantasia  was probably her favourite movie of all time. She loved all the amazing and hysterical Silly Symphony cartoons. Like most everyone of our age, she watched the Disney shows avidly; but she loved the animation best. She complained about the beloved wildlife shows most other little girls adored – I was horrified when she pooh-poohed my personal favourite, Perri the Squirrel. Man, that was a True Life Adventure!

For a while, Kage swore off the animated features, though; because after Walt died, she felt the art got sloppy and bad. The Aristocats, Jungle Book, The Rescuers – she detested them all. In fact, she stopped watching Disney altogether after Robin Hood – I remember she raved all the way home from the theatre after that mess. And then new management came in, fired what was left of the Animation Department, and finally Kage joined the grass roots movement to take the Disney back from the corporate hacks. (Their failure to publicize Treasure Planet, which Kage loved, properly did not help.) Anyway, it worked; and then came the Renaissance ….

From Little Mermaid on, she was in love again. And The Lion King gave her the metaphor she needed for the resuscitation of Disney Studios: the Circle of Life. Winter came, Winter went, Spring returned. Fantasia 2000 left her in tears, especially the last segment. Pixar showed up and was absorbed, rather the way mitochondria were absorbed into Archea bacteria and so powered the eucharyotic cell: and behold! A New Age had begun.

Eucharyotic cells are vitally important to all of us, Dear Readers – they are the basis of all multi-cellular life. ALL of it. Most everything that is not a single-celled bacteria or a virus (and viruses are still on probation as genuine  life-forms, anyway) is a eucharyotic cell. Even some of the eucharyotes  (the Protista) are single-celled, but they are all a lot more complicated than the Archae, containing all the little factories and curtains and nooks and crannies that are the basis of Life As We Know It.

This is such an enormously complicated alteration from the original model, that as far as anyone can tell – it only happened once. Once, in 4 1/2 billion years. We owe our multi-celled magnificence to a single dubious mating of an archeon and whatever the hell the bacterium that became a mitochondrium was before it was eaten, and took took the place instead of being digested. There are still a lot of Aerchea and bacteria all over the place – their sheer biomass makes up most of what is alive on Earth – but we have no idea who the original Romeo and Juliet were who did the trick.

But maybe now we do:


Read the article, Dear Readers. It concerns a whole new group of species of Archea, called the Asgards: and named, in biological whimsy, after various Norse Gods: Thor, Heimdall, Odin, Loki.  All we have so far is their DNA, but it tells us a lot of things. They are probably half the equation that produced eucharyotes, they all show signs of being just on the brink of multi-cellular life, and they are still out there somewhere, alive. What I especially like (due to a personal devotion to the lovely Tom Hiddleston) is that the first samples were named after Loki.

That might explain a few things about the proclivities of humans, too.

Also – lightning-fast segue! – while it is definitely still Winter around here, squirrels and raccoons are beginning the Beguine in the nights. The squirrels are frisking, and the raccoons are clog-dancing on the roof … and a hummingbird has once again built her tiny nest on a branch outside the kitchen window. There she sits, snug in her faerie-cup of silver moss and down, patiently awaiting new life to come to her. She’s so little that we won’t know if she’s succeeded until the little beaks stick up above the rim of the nest – but she’s ready. The Circle of Life, Dear Readers. Everything wears it like a crown.

Anyway, I thought immediately of Kage and her in-and-out love of Disney animation, for some reason. I think it’s the realization that beauty comes and goes – but, most importantly, it comes again. We can ignore it, we can crush it, we can outlaw it, we can deny its existence – but life, and its beauty, will happen regardless. It doesn’t even need us to happen; though we most certainly need it.

Life happened only one – but it happened. Disney produced gems of glory, and then a lot of crap; but the good stuff came back. The critters that we humans have tried to ignore and eradicate from our cities are now pretty much living right here beside us, companionable and safe.

This chain of realizations might be a bit obscure, but it works. Cut me a little slack, here; hope is coming hard. And while I don’t know about you, Dear Readers, I feel a little bit better.*


* Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. ‘Look, Sam!’ he cried, startled into speech. ‘Look! The king has got a crown again!’

The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.

‘They cannot conquer for ever!’ said Frodo.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to Episodes of Beauty

  1. Lynn says:

    Interesting article. I’m going to forward it to the scientists I work with and see if they know any more.
    We are seeing again the miracle of the Circle; winter is here but we are moving toward spring. Days a a tiny bit longer each day and the light is brighter every morning as I get ready for work. Spring is coming soon and we can then sing ‘Summer is a comin in’ again.


  2. Kate says:

    I enjoyed the article tremendously, too. Do let me know if you get any professional feedback – it’s a fascinating topic. And yes, the promise of Spring has given us a tiny little hint this week: it’s encouraging.


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