The trip started with a joke.

“So, Mom, I heard this joke I don’t get,” my son said as he slid into the car and buckled his seat belt for our fall break road trip.  I winced. This is always trouble. He continued. “So, two guys are sitting at a bar, and one of them says ‘Did you know that a sperm whale can produce 400 gallons of sperm at a time? And the other one says ‘that must be why the ocean is so salty!”

“I don’t get that,” he says. I punted; this is going to be a long drive. “I don’t either,” I said.

That’s not actually true. I explained it, in part because I believe that un-gotten jokes are one of the tiny but preventable tragedies of the world, and partly because this is one of those things that I can explain or the internet can explain, and I choose me. So I explained. After a brief look of horror, similar to the ones he got when I had to explain about French kissing and colonoscopies, the horror melted into guffaws.

I’m happy to say the trip improved from there, with the exception of a brief argument in southern Indiana as we passed a series of factories.

“Damn industrial area!” he exclaimed. “Look at all that pollution! I hate factories.”

“Then perhaps you should return your iPad,” I noted drily. I’m a treehugger, but I’m also a fan of nuance and complexity. My eleven-year old isn’t. “Well,” he sputtered, searching for a response, “everyone should get on solar. Solar is all we need,” he insisted with the confidence of a preteen who has arrived on the scene and is confused why no one has asked him for the obvious solutions to the world’s problems.

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” I noted. “No it’s not,” he said. “Animals were here first and humans need to stop messing everything up.”

It’s late and I’m tired. Ordinarily I would question him gently, but I’m feeling ornery. “Animals were not here first. Blue-green bacteria were here first.”*

“Well, blue-green bacteria evolved into animals.” He thinks he has me.

“And animals evolved into humans,” I replied as we drive over the Ohio River into Louisville. “So if we’re going by who was here first, then the blue-green bacteria need to start contributing to the clean energy discussion.”

“What is THAT???” he yells as he points to a series of lights over the river, a convenient subject change. “I think it’s a UFO!”

Welcome to Kentucky.


*Strictly speaking, not true. Simple cells, prokaryotes, were here first. Blue-green bacteria came a bit later. They were important in that they gain their energy from photosynthesis, and produce oxygen as a result. It’s thought that they played an important role in creating an oxygen rich atmosphere. But these are mere details when you’re arguing in the late evening with an eleven-year old.


3 thoughts on “Road trip biology

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