It has been an occasional evening routine to watch a nature program.  It is a nod to the bigness of world and a balm to how little seems to get accomplished in my world each day.  Tonight i have the add perk of half of my twelve year old’s attention.  And so it begins…


A large shoal of sardines forms yearly off the coastal tip of South Africa following the cool water current brought by the Southern Hemisphere winter.  It is so large it is called a “mega-school” with these tiny sardines swimming in close proximity forming a shoal that can extend up to 20 miles wide.  The reason for the formation and eventual migration up the eastern side of the cost seems to have no obvious benefit for the sardines themselves. Although it has been postulated it is related to helping with spawning, there is no clear need for this migration.  However the benefit for a myriad of sea creatures is beyond a doubt and many count on this annual event.  Sea lions, Gannet birds, Bottlenose and Common dolphins travel many miles to find the mega-school, and sharks, tuna, often a whale and even orcas will take advantage of the abundance of fish and larger prey.’


His half-attention is fading.  Even the beautiful moving images cannot keep him.  He fiddles with a strand of kinky hair and moves away shuffling up the stairs.  


As the cool waters continue North, so does the shoal passing the Sea Lion colony and then the Gannets on Bird Island, all who have coincided their breeding season with this massive passing.


I carry the laptop up the stairs following him.  He is slowly readying for bed while the blue images on the screen continue to be narrated.  He balances his toothbrush between his teeth.  


Meanwhile a school of sardines part waters swimming out of the way of a great white shark, forming a temporary underwater tunnel made of tiny fish.’ 


He semi-dives into bed and as he settles down, I sit beside him.  He’s stopped the reading-to-him-at-night business but at times, he will accept an oral narration.  And so this night it’s an ode made up on the spot.




Ode to the power of the small and the minuscule.


How mega schools of fish form from tiny sardines.

How fungi and moss precariously grow and create biomes with clean air for larger animals.

How a drop of water is barely seen but over time can smooth a stone and split a mountain.


Water drops can finally clean the grime off a working hand or slowly knock an Aspen off a cliff.

What about a sand speck that together with a few million can change a continent’s climate?

Or a dust spot floating in the light, weightless, but when together forms the soil that feeds an entire world.


Is bigness only important in how it holds the small?

And each generation advances because of the schooling of children taught one by one.

Like the millions of unseen cells that makes a Cottonwood, or dinosaur,

a thousand different batches,  and without all of them not one would exist.


When a sun beam joins with another small ray together with millions to make light of day,

Is it the result of the big or the small?  


Does the infinitely expanding universe edge, the gaseous clouds of dust and rain,

whisper the story of plankton, sardines and moss?  

Or sing an ode to the littlest one?




This I tell him as he moves under the bed covers, his nose barely visible over the tiny cotton threads of the blue and white blanket.  Then I told him to remember to make a wish because on some special days, the universe will grant it—grant everyone who dares to beseech it with their deepest intimate thoughts.  It is not entirely clear which days were wish days but if you wished frequently enough, it was bound to fall on one of them. How many people would ask today, he sleepily wondered, for world peace, or a million dollars or good health?  Or perhaps the return of true love?  Or to clean up the mess of the environment ? Or feed the homeless?   And as he drifted off to sleep, I imagined all the millions of tiny hopes coalescing together.  Could the world hold all those wishes like breaths of air?  How big was this universe, anyway?  Is it large enough to contain this and many tiny wishing hearts?


Turtles by Artist Shelley Rohlf

School of big and small by Didi Koka won second place in the Saint Paul Almanac’s Break Through Writing Contest in the category of creative non-fiction.

Didi Koka is a poet, family physician and Buddhist zen practitioner. She has lived and worked in the twin cities for over 20 years.  Although she has a MFA in poetry, she writes poetry and creative non-fiction. She has the wonderful luck of having 2 teenage boys and a love of nature.

Posted in: People, Prose