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  • You get a lot of questions about living things when you spend some time speaking about them and showing them to people. The place I work now gives me plenty of opportunities to hear these questions. I pick up a horsecrab here in Woods Hole and I'll be asked if it bites or if it stings. Others want to know how big things grow or how fast they can run. I appreciate the questions. It reminds me why I do what I do.

    My work is in biodiversity informatics. That is, I work in a field that focuses on answering questions about biodiversity by making it easier to manage and move the data and information about species from one place to another. Sometimes I get so focused on the technical parts of all this that I sometimes lose sight of what it is all about. That is, until I get the question.

    You'd think after all this time I could handle most any question, yet I still get stuck on the one that might be most important of all. The one which, in the best of worlds, wouldn't be asked at all but simply reflects an ingrained perspective about nature that will ultimately lead to its demise.

    "What good is it?"

    As an American, I come from a developed, industrial country where our views toward the natural world seem to mimic our views regarding industrial growth. That value is an attribute of utility, particularly immediate utility. This shouldn't come as any surprise. Our society is governed by processes and values that prioritize profit value over any other value and often at the expense of human society and dignity. There's little wonder we see the natural world the same way.

    This flower grows in a small pool in a temple in the heart of Bangkok. Every year the flowers bloom here and add their color and beauty to this place. I can understand why the devoted would plant them here. They lend color and calm to this holy place and connect it to the living world. This story, however, is not about the flower at all. It's about the bees.

    The bees in this photo are doing what most bees, large or small do over the course of their lives. They are collecting pollen and in so doing, they deposit pollen from other flowers on this one. They enable this plant to produce the seeds from which new flowers will emerge to decorate other temples. I marvel at their tiny size and wonder how did they get here? Where do they go at night? How can they make it here?

    A sharp slapping sound draws me out of my thoughts and I turn to see a tourist brushing an insect from her arm. Her husband has been waiting for me to move so he too can photograph the beautiful scene. I rise and move along, looking for another memento to show when I get home. The noise of the city intrudes again. The bees remain, doing a small job quietly and well.
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