We are so used to the notion of our own inevitability as life's dominant species that it is hard to grasp that we are here only because of timely extraterrestrial bangs and other random flukes. The one thing we have in common with all other living things is that for nearly four billions years our ancestors have managed to slip through a series of closing doors every time we needed them to.
Because we humans are big and clever enough to produce and utilize antibiotics and disinfectants, it is easy to convince ourselves that we have banished bacteria to the fringes of existence. Don't you believe it. Bacteria may not build cities or have interesting social lives, but they will be here when the Sun explodes. This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be.
But I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn't know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.
Consider the Lichen. Lichens are just about the hardiest visible organisms on Earth, but the least ambitious.
But I love to drink. I can't help it. I mean, I love it Bryson-love the taste, love that buzz you get when you've had a couple, love the smell and feel of the taverns. I miss dirty jokes and the click of pool balls in the background, and that kind of bluish, under lit glow of a bar at night.
Geologists are never at a loss for paperweights.
Everyone has a supremely low moment somewhere along the AT, usually when the urge to quit the trail becomes almost overpowering. The irony of my moment was that I wanted to get back on the trail and didn't know how. I hadn't lost just Katz, my boon companion, but my whole sense of connectedness to the trail. I had lost my momentum, my feeling of purpose. In the most literal way I needed to find my feet again.
It is a curious feature of our existance that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.
Everywhere throughout New England you find old, tumbledown field walls, often in the middle of the deepest, most settled- looking woods- a reminder of just how swiftly nature reclaims the land in America.
It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.
Four times I was honked at for having the temerity to proceed through town without the benefit of metal.
Life just wants to be; but it doesn't want to be much.
Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.
Our instinct may be to see the impossibility of tracking everything down as frustrating, dispiriting, perhaps even appalling, but it can just as well be viewed as almost unbearably exciting. We live on a planet that has a more or less infinite capacity to surprise. What reasoning person could possibly want it any other way?
I turned to my own bunk and examined it with a kind of appalled fascination. If the mattress stains were anything to go by, a previous user had not so much suffered from incontinence as rejoiced in it. He had evidently included the pillow in his celebrations.
Physics is really nothing more than a search for ultimate simplicity, but so far all we have is a kind of elegant messiness.
I wanted to quit and to do this forever, sleep in a bed and in a tent, see what was over the next hill and never see a hill again. All of this all at once, every moment, on the trail or off.
Protons give an atom its identity, electrons its personality.
What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.
Strange as it may seem,? wrote Richard Feynman, ?we understand the distribution of matter in the interior of the Sun far better than we understand the interior of the Earth.
When I awoke it was daylight. The inside of my tent was coated in a curious flaky rime, which I realized after a moment was all of my nighttime snores, condensed and frozen and pasted to the fabric, as if into a scrapbook of respiratory memories.
Taxonomy is described sometimes as a science and sometimes as an art, but really it's a battleground.
The number of people on whose cooperative efforts your eventual existence depends has risen to approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, which is several thousand times the total number of people who have ever lived.
The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don't truly understand.
There are three stages in scientific discovery. First, people deny that it is true, then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.
There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone cacll from the frankly interesting.
For a long time it puzzled me how something so expensive, so leading edge, could be so useless, and then it occurred to me that a computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are, in short, a perfect match.
To my mind, the only possible pet is a cow. Cows love you. . . . They will listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends forever. And when you get tired of them, you can kill and eat them. Perfect.
Among the many thousands of things that I have never been able to understand, one in particular stands out. That is the question of who was the first person who stood by a pile of sand and said, You know, I bet if we took some of this and mixed it with a little potash and heated it, we could make a material that would be solid and yet transparent. We could call it glass. Call me obtuse, but you could stand me on a beach till the end of time and never would it occur to me to try to make it into windows.
Germans are flummoxed by humor, the Swiss have no concept of fun, the Spanish think there is nothing at all ridiculous about eating dinner at midnight, and the Italians should never, ever have been let in on the invention of the motor car.
More Bill Bryson Quotations (Based on Topics)
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More Bill Bryson Quotations (By Book Titles)
- A Short History of Nearly Everything
- A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Thomas Kuhn - Paul Davies - Margaret J. Wheatley - John Grisham - Edward Fairfax - Dr. Seuss - Charles Caleb Colton - Bill Bryson - Bernardo Bertolucci - Abraham Polonsky