09/11/2020

It’s Still A Wild, Wonder-Filled World

16:35 minutes

a large plant, the corpse flower, that has two large leaves opening up revealing purple on the inside. coming out of the opening is a large cone structure.
Credit: Daniel Peterschmidt/Science Friday

The table of contents for poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s new book of essays reads like a list of evolution’s most fantastic products. The comb jelly, which pulses with rainbow bioluminescence. The smiling-faced axolotl, which can regrow lost limbs and is a star of biology research labs, but is considered critically endangered in the wild. The human-sized corpse flower, which blooms for a mere 24 hours, smelling of dead flesh.

It’s also a deeply personal book: Nezhukumatathil says the screaming pink of dragonfruit signals “summertime, pop music, sunglasses balanced on the top of my head, weather too warm for socks.” A firefly’s spark might send her back to her grandmother’s backyard, or “to splashing in an ice-cold creek bed, with our jeans rolled up to our knees, until we shudder and gasp, our toes fully wrinkled.” Even the horizontal eye of an octopus becomes a “door that judges us,” as the oceans become increasingly difficult to inhabit, thanks to humans’ ravages.

a close up of an octopus eye
The eye of an octopus or “door that judges us?” Credit: Ryan Hawk/Science Friday
a reptilian looking creature with colorful feathers sprouting from its neck
A “smiling” axolotl, which has the ability to regenerate limbs. Credit: Christian Baker/Science Friday

Science Friday’s Christie Taylor talks to Nezhukumatathil about her experiences in natural wonder, and why in a world of changing climate, rising seas, and burning forests, she finds it important to share her joy in learning about the creatures we share the planet with.

Read an excerpt from the book about the life of the ribbon eel, and how the creature brings back memories of Nezhukumatathil’s son.


Further Reading

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Segment Guests

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a poet, essayist and author of World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments (Milkweed, 2020). She’s also a professor of English at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi.

Segment Transcript

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Meet the Producer

About Christie Taylor

Christie Taylor is a producer for Science Friday. Her day involves diligent research, too many phone calls for an introvert, and asking scientists if they have any audio of that narwhal heartbeat.

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