Gut Biome Thinking

Friday brought snow; it snowed most of the day but was too warm for anything to accumulate. Friday night we had about 8-10 inches of wet, heavy snow which brought down tree branches and caused quite a few people to be without power. The snow was of the sticky variety and the white coated trees were breathtaking. 

Today we might have temperatures near 50F, which would be a welcome change from our unusually frigid March. In spite of the cold, some maple producers managed a normal crop for sugaring season and might be able to boil this week as well. Here in the broad valley nights are forecast to remain above freezing for the week so the maple sugaring season may end for us. Nighttime temperatures must go below freezing in order for the maple trees to recharge and send sap up their trunks.

We’ve been living with a virus, thus much sputtering, coughing, and sneezing. I’ve taken something of a personal affront at this invasion, which makes little objective sense as the virus is widespread and many are much more ill than us. I remind myself that the virus needs to eat and reproduce, and that we owe our very existence to viruses, but this line of thought seems to have little traction with the me that wants to be over it.

I guess my antipathy towards the virus clan is understandable given my experience of, and ongoing relationship to, Polio. To say it has been life-changing seems a considerable understatement. Even so, I am left with a sense of mystery and awe at the transformative nature of some viruses, organisms able to rewire entire nervous systems. I am also reminded that the inhabitants of our gut biome, mainly bacteria, appear to control our emotions, cognition, and even movement. What are we to make of that?

Fortunately most of the time I am able to go along imagining I am one solitary being, largely taking the many voices in my mind, each with a perfectly understandable point of view and set of needs and desires, for granted. I also don’t think all that much about the organisms living between my individual cells, or even the cells themselves. I may be less neglectful of the trillions of organisms living in my intestines and stomach as I have taken on a project of feeding them better.

The illusion of selfhood is difficult to shake; it is, after all, a highly effective way of dealing with the everyday needs and demands of life. Just imagine how we might get along if we had to reach agreement with a billion or so organisms just to move an arm! Fortunately, most of the time the system works so well we can keep up that ever so convenient pretense of unity. Still, it seems good idea to contemplate, and be amazed at, at least now and then, the complexity that we each are.

24 thoughts on “Gut Biome Thinking

  1. And when systems fail beyond recognition, the work to get all those moving parts in harmony again is overwhelming. *sigh* Let’s hope America is up to breaking down that task and working hard! We are under the delusion of “American selfhood”, perhaps, with a very delusional leader at the helm. Communication between Americans must inform the work.

    1. Priscilla, I, too, keep wondering how we might have conversations across the great divides that seem to separate us Americans. Perhaps we must collectively reject the vision of our so called leaders and build a society that truly cares for all. And yes, I too sigh.

  2. Beautiful photos, Michael. They trigger some great memories of these kinds of snows – and I almost miss them. I’ve decided that it is easier to rely on the memories than to live in the reality of the cold dampness. I am finding that taking breaks from reality (like contemplating the viruses living in my gut) are reducing stress. I have become consumed by politics and I really do need to get a life, while still being aware of what is going on. I just don’t need to be aware of the blow-by-blow real-time revelations.

    1. Pat, the news just keeps coming.The snow is melting and the rivers filling. Sometime, none too soon, this political situation will pass. In the meanwhile, we do what we can for each other and the world. I try to make time for the arts and for play. I remember the terror that was polio. and my friends remember the Holocaust. These memories feed our desire to give salve to the world. I’m hoping your photography is a source of great solace for you in these hard times.

    2. Oh, Pat! I just discovered I didn’t respond to your comment. The snow was lovely in that end of season way, a dear moment in the progression of the season. As to the state of things, I, very much like you I believe, take refuge in nature, art, family, friends, and, of course food! There is so much I cannot change, even though I would do so if I could, so constant attention to the craziness just exhausts me and does little good. Then, just when I least expect it, I have some small and meaningful impact, for which I am grateful. I am so aware that without conversations, like this one, life would be painful indeed.

  3. When my health is fair good, I don’t think much about all the bacteria and virus either, but when I get a cold or something worse, I know that I need to remember to feed my stomach with good bacteria’s to get back more fast.
    Let us all work for peace and stand together in a good way, Michael. Wish you and Jennie a good weekend and do my best to send you sunshine and warm weather 🙂

    1. Irene, my doctor handed me two bottles of probiotics the other day, saying, “Do something good for your self.” I guess feeding the bugs that keep us well is indeed a good idea!

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