Thursday, December 4, 2008

In Which MacBeth Expounds Upon Dust

[Cough, cough]

The noon sun of late autumn is streaming through the windows, illuminating the bane of housewives and cleaning people everywhere: Dust. Normally, the house is dusty because we live on an island made up of mixed glacial till...and that means dust. Normally, the house is dusty because the dogs drag mud and dirt into the house. Normally, the house is dusty because we have a large open hearth fireplace, and soot occasionally (Ha!) escapes into the room. Today, there is a thin layer of dust due to construction all over the whole house. The kids can, and did, write things in the dust. Ugh.

This reminded me of a favorite book, The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes. Holmes discusses types of dust, both harmful and beneficial, in a readable but scientific set of essays. One of my favorite chapters describes the procedure for capturing space dust, which falls on the Earth from space all the time, but is most easily neatly caught and identified during snowfall. The instructions are on my Winter Page.

Another chapter describes illnesses, both rare and common, from dusts of various types, including those manufactured by volcanism, plants, and even animals. You'll have to fight to resist the urge to wear a mask at all times after reading this.

But we should also be thankful for dust. Dust builds soil. Pollen in dust makes new crops. Dust has helped to preserve and fossilize prehistoric creatures, and the unfortunate Pompeians--not a good thing then, but a marvel now. Dust in the atmosphere provides the nucleation (starter) sites for the formation of snowflakes.

The only thing the book is lacking is an illustrated guide to dust...but we all know what dust looks like, right? And do you really want to get a closer look? I mean, dust in the house is full of mites, dog dander, cat dander, bird dander, feather bits, soot, hair, dirt, insect bits, carpet fuzz, plaster-and-horsehair, and more. A closer look might turn your stomach. A closer look will show a microscopic invasion force that you will want to eliminate. A closer look will only make you want to dust. Again.

Unless you are like me, and you can only think of interesting projects to do with dust.

[Cough, cough]

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