Sacrifice and Miracle

In Butte Montana
there is an open pit copper mine
that filled in with water
after it was closed.

It is a vast lake now
with water red and green
and gray and black
containing sulfuric acid
and heavy metals:
deadly poisons all.

For decades
nothing could live in the water, and
nothing could live on the shore.

Every year flocks of snow geese
try to land on the lake
and every year humans
go out and make noise
to try to scare them away.

One year despite the noise
several hundred landed there
and drank the water
and the next day
all the birds were dead.

Autopsies showed
they had been poisoned
by the water.

Fifteen years later
scientists found a sticky black goo—
a yeast—
growing in the water
absorbing the toxic metals.

A miracle!  A breakthrough!
An organism that can eat toxic metals!

It took some time to identify it
but eventually the scientists realized
that it had been seen once before:

in the digestive systems
of the geese
that had died
when they landed
on the lake.

(h/t to Rev. Kevin Tarsa, who shared this story from Radiolab one Easter morning.)