Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] Kick that bucket list

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] Kick that bucket list
Learning something is a bottomless pit, loving is a bottomless pit, and if you really learned, loved, and lived with all your might, you never really tick items on a list and kick the bucket. You pass it on.

Many people have what they call a “bucket list” – a list of things that they want to happen to themselves within their lifetime. Most of the ones I heard of consists of places to go to. I think it’s normal to have a wish list but I could never figure out why it is called a “bucket list.” Why will you think of the things that you want to happen in your life as “items” you can carry in a bucket? What will you do with them once it is filled? And where do you intend to go with that bucket? I think it is depressing to think that life is about filling a bucket only to kick it in the end.

When I eloped decades ago, my husband and I studied the odds of our uncommon bond and the odds were, we knew we would be together for 10-12 years at most. I know that many, if not most married couples swim with the notion of “forever” when they start out. He and I were very close and also wished “forever” was an option but in the times when we want our thoughts to be able to stand the scrutiny of day which was much more often, he and I were very conscious of life cycles – ours and other creatures’. So we figured we would list down the things we wanted to learn together. It was a “Learn Together List” or “LTL”. Not as sexy as “bucket list” but if you stay with me, maybe I can convince you to make your own LTL.

One of things in our list was to learn about animals. At first, it was not about loving animals. It was in fact, about why we did not love them and that deeply bothered us both. He and I shared a strange habit of always stepping back and being aware that we are one species among millions of others caught in this perplexing, exhilarating living planetary labyrinth. That habit served as our “shelter” from the guilt we humans have for dominating all other species but more, it also served as an irrefutable reminder that there are millions of other ways to be alive.

To tick “learn about animals” in our list, it was not about going to only one place, or observing animals, talking to experts who study them all their lives, or just reading books about them. It was all of that and more. We wanted to learn “natural selection” – that incredibly deep insight that Charles Darwin had about how natural life creatively begets a differently powered life across generations and places. So we had to forego buying furniture then and went on a trip to the Galapagos with scientists. When we went there, not only did we observe how indeed natural selection made a lot of sense and explained a lot of things about the progression of biological life, we also gained a permanent reverence for all things wild and raw.

We became increasingly fascinated by the “otherness” of non-human creatures and felt electrified when we make a connection with these “others.” We read many books about animals and engaged in a lot of seethingly interesting conversations with scientists who committed great portions of their lives studying them. He and I exchanged our own awe and confusions about what we stumble upon about these other lives. We became constantly aware that we are all living in a huge 40,075 km circumferential house of a planet with a host of other living beings and most humans are not even aware (or at least behave so) that being human is only one way of being alive.

Fast forward to today as I am reading terrific science writer Ed Yong’s book: An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realm Around Us. It has been many years since my husband passed on and he did so 12 years since we started our life together, just as he computed. I found myself telling him in my head that I just learned that salmon can smell their way into the waters where they were born, that elephants can find water buried beneath, as well as smell which covered bucket contained more food, that the movement of army ants are so dependent on pheromones that if the pheromones stick to themselves, they will spiral on to their death from fatigue, that the forked tongue of snakes has to do with having a stereo way of sensing direction as each “spike” captures a scent from each side, that bees can merely stand on a flower to detect the sweetness of its nectar, that a catfish has taste buds all over its scale-less membrane from its head to its tail.

I remember “learn about animals” in our list and that we never really ticked it even after all the adventures we devoted to it. I think it was because we realized even while doing it then that learning something is a bottomless pit. That loving is a bottomless pit. And that life too is a bottomless pit as how he loved and learned with me flowed into my living list which I share now with the ones I am having adventures with.

If you really learned, loved, and lived with all your might, you never really tick items on a list and kick the bucket. You pass it on. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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