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The Infinity of the Small


It is the end of June, and I am wandering about my small island in Maine. I’ve been thinking about the materiality of the world. Today, I just want to experience the fleshiness of this island. I run my hands along the bristly branches of a spruce tree. I could identify that prickle blindfolded. My bare feet sink into spongy moss. On the rocks lie mussel shells dropped from on high by crafty gulls seeking to break them apart and liberate the food within. The shells feel smooth and cool even in the sun. This tiny island in Casco Bay is shaped like a finger, half a mile long and a tenth of a mile wide. A high bony ridge runs down its spine, a hundred feet above sea level, and my house lies on the north end of the ridge. To the south, there are five other cottages, cloaked from one another by a dense growth of trees — mostly spruce, but also pine, cedar, and poplar, whose leaves in the wind sound like hands clapping.

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, a physicist and novelist, teaches at MIT. His essay “What Came Before the Big Bang?” appeared in the January 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine. His book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, from which this essay is adapted, will be published next month by Pantheon.

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