It was a day in late winter in rural eastern Tennessee, brilliantly sunny but chilly and wet from several days of rain, when my father and I went for a stroll through the wooded barn lot and across a pasture to the tiny pond that served to water my grandfather's small herd of milk cows and also harbored a few fish. My grandfather allowed cattails, sedges, alder, willow, and sycamore to clothe the banks undisturbed, and one might discover a writing spider or a green snake living there. We even had a muskrat, although looking back, I am amazed it found enough to eat. For an 8-year-old boy, it was a wilderness oasis within our carefully tended but monotonous fields of tobacco, corn, and pasture.

Dad said we were on a collecting expedition. Our gear consisted of a quart Mason jar, the kind my mother and grandmother filled with tomatoes, pickles, or green beans. At the edge of the pond, Dad knelt and filled the jar half full of water, scooping up some decaying tree leaves that had collected in a cows footprint in the mud. I was a bit baffled but unimpressed. What could possibly be interesting about a canning jar of mud and pond water and rotten leaves? We stayed a few minutes, hoping to see the muskrat come out of his hole at the water's edge, the remains of his dinner scattered in front, but he was sleeping in. As we returned to the house, I asked about the jar, and Dad said cryptically, "Wait and see." He loved to surprise me.

Back at the house, Dad carefully took down a wooden case from its place on a shelf in his basement workshop. From it, he removed a microscope, the first such device I had ever seen. He had been given it by his own father when a teenager, but his keen hopes of studying to become a scientist were swallowed in the abyss of the Great Depression. Showing me how it worked, Dad placed a drop of the pond water on a slide, deftly tipped a coverslip on top, and placed the slide on the stage of the scope. After adjusting the focus a bit, he invited me to have a look. I could scarcely believe my eyes. The water drop was teeming with tiny creatures of many kinds, all appearing to have been blown from tinted glass.

My hands were clumsy at first, but I soon got the hang of moving the slide around to follow the course of one protozoan — move the slide left and the image moved right, "up" meant "down" — it required some practice. Then I saw the stentor. A giant among protozoans, this ciliate is shaped like a large funnel. It had attached itself by the narrow end to a bit of rotten leaf, and a circle of beating cilia around the wide end created a current that drew tiny prey into its gullet. Details of the stentor's internal structure were clearly visible because it is transparent, and this one was blue, my favorite color! I watched the stentor for an hour or more that

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day, and in the 37 years that have passed between then and now, I've spent as much time as possible peering into microscopes and otherwise observing, reading, and writing about the myriad manifestations of life on our planet.

In due course, I became a biologist and teacher. I have been fortunate to meet many brilliant people along the way, from whom I have managed to learn a little. I have also been lucky to travel and do fieldwork in my favorite part of the world, the southeastern United States. A rich tapestry of life is spread before us here, even yet, despite the encroachment of concrete and asphalt.

Yet no discovery can match the thrill of first peering through the eyepiece at a world of wonder in a drop of pond water, seeing creatures as seemingly alien as a stentor, crafted delicately as if from cobalt glass. A dazzling reef aquarium is yet another window on worlds long hidden from human eyes. In this book, I hope to share with you my lifelong obsession with nature s ebullience.

For me, it started with a drop of pond water and someone who took the time to help me see it. Thanks, Dad.

—John H. Tullock Knoxville, Tennessee

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