In Awe of Aphids and Motorcycles

"It all started with a big bang didn’t it ?"
This guest blog was written by Victor Ince who is a member of the Summerland United Church. Victor grew up in Northern Ireland and recently retired as a Project Manager with the Interior Health Authority in British Columbia, Canada. Victor's reflection on the aphid causes him to ask if anything else is required for unconditional acceptance of an inexplicable universe.

I’m in awe! Actually I’ve been in awe all my life. I’m really just a big kid – and I don’t want to change.

I spent my earliest years in a small town on the north coast of Ireland. My earliest recollections center around two things which still fascinate me today - motorcycles and the seashore. Many youthful hours were spent chasing crabs and small fish in tide pools – collecting shells and making sandcastles. I was fascinated by waves crashing on rocks – gulls swooping in the breeze – just how do they do that I wondered?

My home town hosted a major motorcycle road race every year and my Dad always took me to watch these 'heroes' of mine in their leathers and helmets as they roared through the town streets. The sights and the crowds were unlike anything I would experience for the rest of the year - the noise was music to my boyhood ears. I have never lost this fascination with motorcycles and an awe of their speed and stability. I have learned the science of the boyhood mystery that explains why motorcycles to not fall over but it still remains a hard thing to grasp.

Every day I see things that just fill me with awe – simple things like the red winged blackbirds by the highway and the ospreys at Trout Creek. I wonder how they build their nests on top of those distant power poles. I certainly couldn’t do it and I’m a being with a 'superior' intellect.

I see evening rainbows and marvel at their beauty; I see lightning and marvel at its power. I could look at ladybugs and aphids going about their work all day and while watching them pause momentarily to admire the delicate beauty of 'their' roses. The lowly dandelion pushing its cheeky face out of that crack in yonder driveway fills me with amazement.

There is so much in daily life to thrill, amaze, comfort and educate one that it leaves me perplexed how we can usually trundle through life never noticing and never paying attention to the world's wonders that surround us. Even as we notice these wonders how often do we just accept their embracing of us as 'normal' and not especially noteworthy.

When I turn my thoughts to the greater universe I can not conceive the size of the world on which we all live and the infinite size of the space in which we float in a perfect rhythm with all the other celestial bodies -everything in its special place; everything in a magnificent order. I know how often in a thousand years a comet or a meteor shower will show up – and show on time it always does.

As I consider the 'big' questions for which scientists claim to provide 'answers' I hear echoing in my mind that it all started with a big bang or did it? No-one has given me an explanation of what blew up and I still seek to have someone explain to me in simple terms - just what blew up and where did this material universe came from? The universe is constantly expanding - into what is it expanding?

As I live in awe of how one small aphid goes about its work I sense that I should be in greater awe of this thing we call our universe. Yet, somehow the aphid is more important than the universe of which it is so miniscule a part. If I am destined to forever remain awed with the mysterious works of an aphid will I ever comprehend the even greatery mystery of the universe?

I hope I shall continue through this journey of life in awe of aphids, automobiles, motorbikes, moonbeams, bears and birds. These gifts from the universe continue to re-awaken in me daily that same awe first aroused within my boyhood soul when I saw that tiny crab scuttle under a rock and brave men on motorcycles roar down “my home street”.

Never do I want to 'grow up' if it means losing this feeling – I want and need this spirit within me each and every day.

As for the beginning and the end of time, or the size and shape of the universe, or what may exist beyond the boundaries of my time-space continuum, I leave to the higher power who understands what the creation of such a world really means while I just continue to marvel at each and every aphid.

The Big Bang - the source for awe of an aphid?

Posted June 15, 2007


Diana Malcolm said...

I’m reminded of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. What brings happiness to a life is not the pursuit of material things, power, or wealth but the pursuit of harmonious activities.

Aristotle said that it was activity which gave life its character and in The Republic Plato talks about the dangers of having unintegrated motivations.

I would never have expected anyone to argue that aphids and motorcycles were activities that were possible of integration but as part of a world of awe and wonder of course they are!

Di Di

Avid Reader said...

The Big Bang could (and may well be) the source of awe. Saying that does not say anything about the existence or otherwise of a higher power.

In our lifetimes I doubt that anyone will ever answer the 'big' quesions of whether there was something before the big bang or was the big bang the product of a creator. I don't think that as a species we are sufficiently advanced to figure this stuff out. We will therefore have to be satisified with what we experience and look to those experiencs as a source of happiness.

This thread brought some interesting childhood memories for me to the fore. I guess as we get old we have more to look back on than to look forward to.

For some of my peers theological study brings happiness - for others it is scientific pursuits. For a few it is simply 'being' and 'experiencing' and 'appreciating' and 'enjoying'.

In a way riding a bike, looking at the stars, reading a good book (my addiction) are forms of 'worship' while things amd places that we hold dear to us are sacred.

I have a friend whose husband died a while ago. She hated the Beatles but he loved them particularly the song "Imagine". Now to her "Imagine" has become a sacred hymn and every time she hears it she pauses and thinks of him. She is a very staunch atheist and I don't think that she realizes that to her "Imagine" is now a holy song through which she experiences something sacred - the memory of her husband. She wouldn't put it that way I am sure but in essence that is what it is - a state of awe which others call a state of worship.

Enough! Sorry for wandering around off topic.


Victor Ince said...

Diana, My thanks for the observations.

DM, thank you to for your comment. My only response is to question the more to look back on line - I think that one of the reasons I was motivated to write the piece in the first place is that my sense of awe and discovery has not waned and I look forward every year to new discoveries, sights and experiences.

From any perspectives our world is fascinating and tomorrow is always (for me) a new adventurre.


Andrew Wilson said...


This comment struck home to me with the story about "Imagine".

As some of you already know from an earlier thread my wife died in a traffic accident many years ago. She used to always have to get on my case to clean the kitchen floor. That was the job I hated most. Now I do it weekly at the same time of a Friday evening! Why I don't know but I am really doing it for her. It is indeed in a sense a way of worshiping her even to the degree that it has now become a "ritual". The thing that I used to hate to do is now an hour of quiet reflection about times past.

I'm beginning to suspect that I may not be alone in having this somewhat strange need!



Brian McKay said...

Di Di

You said “I would never have expected anyone to argue that aphids and motorcycles were activities that were possible of integration”

Read some biker poetry – bugs and motorcycles integrate all the time. Even I know that from riding around on my bicycle ;-)

Bugs On My Face
Wind in my hair and dawn on my brow
Fresh air and freedom and no one around
All to myself this glorious morn
The new day’s cool breath is starting to warm
Just one caveat I’m learning to hate
The ocean’s cool spray is salted to taste
And I’m not alone,
I got bugs on my face
There’re June bugs and May flies
On summer’s wind ride
God knows when they‘re born
Now I know when they died
A cornucopia of natures waste
Protein rich and vitamin laced
A moment of silence for the sacrifice,
That’s made this day by the bugs on my face
There are moths and mosquitoes, uniramia all
The study of insects in academia hall
Up close and personal I'd have taken a class
And sought other ways to mount them on glass
Pinned them neat and evenly spaced
Gently placed in a trophy case
The marvelous beauty,
Of the bugs on my face
Marooned on an isle or imprisoned perhaps
I’d be more receptive to musical whaps
Of marinade morsels smack on my lips
Providing pate and natural dip
Pull up beside, I’ll set you a place
Plenty to share, so grab a full plate
Please help yourself,
To the bugs on my face


Philip Kurian said...

In my opinion all of the great scientists, writers and poets are driven by a sense of awe. I think the Romantic poets (Keats, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth for example) were all driven by this feeling.

Many of my friends in the gay community seem more susceptible to awe than the heterosexuals that I know. Things like aphids, flowers, a distinct color, a turn of phrase etc. are awe inspiring to us and I think someday that biologists will find that there is a genetic difference that makes some more open to awe than others.

Awe can both be positive and negative. For example, the people of Iraq were obviously in awe of Saddam Hussein so while one can be driven by awe to create the great scientific and literary works one can also be controlled by it to do nothing.

I find that the average Joes in life are “average Joes” precisely because there is a lack of awe in their lives. Yes they can be curious about things and seek to learn through reading and study but because of a lack of awe there is nothing that drives them on to greatness. Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman describes how they end their days.

Awe and pleasure are quite different; the average Joe takes pleasure in many things but has awe of few things which brings me to wonder if the motorcycle experience is more akin to a pleasurable experience than to an experience of awe. But then having no experience of traveling on these machines I suppose that I should not speak definitively about what others experience.

Sadly, in many ways I have to agree with the post that I also drift through life sometimes absent of the awe that I might experience if I just paused for a moment and allowed awe to engulf me.

Today I will be pausing much more!


Pianoman said...

Hi Phil!

Welcome to this discussion group.

I agree the most scientists, writers and artists who achieve greatness are driven by some sense of awe.

I teach music and I can give you a good example of this. Some of my pupils are technically very proficient and when playing Mozart for example the untrained ear would not be able to distinguish between them.

However, the ones who marvel at what Mozart wrote play his music with a passion that is completely missing in those students who just see another musical piece in front of them. The latters' playing, while technically perfect, is strangely dead.

I'm sure it must be like that in other artistic fields too. The great nature painters for example have the same sense of awe of nature and somehow they are able to get this feeling into their art. The rest paint canvasses that are only good for hanging in a bad restaurant.

Joan Ferguson said...

It's not clear to me if the author of the thread (Victor Ince) believes that awe does come from the big bang.

Is he saying that there is something beyond just the physical universe i.e. a spiritual force. Is he expressing agnosticism about what this is or does he have a concept that might be shared?


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your comments and question.

Firstly, I didn't think that awe came from the big bang. However I can't say that I dwelt much on that either.

I do deeply feel that there is something bigger than the physical universe - something beyond my comprehension.

When loking at an aphid, or other tiny creature, going about its very sophisticated work AND not understanding that, then perhaps, I can be content in not being able to understand the greater concepts of a universal force, time and space.

I know it's a bit of a cop out but it was looking at the aphids that re-awakened my awe that day and every day I find another reason to celebrate the mystery of life and the universe.