The Firmament of Time
There once lived a paleontologist and writer named Loren Eiseley. I never met him, but through his writings he roams the planet with me. His words echo & blend with my thoughts as I wander and I'm often heartened by having a comrade with broad vision to whom I can mentally converse as I watch modern humanity climb, crawl, jump, paw, drive, fly, crush, and push, our way through current time and space - blissfully recording it all in a magical cyberspace universe of our own creation as we go.
On a recent evening, I sat near the core of an ancient volcano in northern California, on the edge of a pool of gray silty water, heated to boiling by magma somewhere below the surface. I watched the center of it bubble, roll, leap and splash. A young girl stood near me as a thick, wet belch of Sulphur engulfed us. She looked down at the pool and then at a baggie of goldfish crackers in her hand. “What would happen if I threw my goldfish in there?” She asked. The woman with her seemed confused for a moment, but gathered herself and said that it wouldn't be a good idea because that would make things “less nice” for those who followed her here. The girl crinkled her nose, seemingly not completely satisfied with the answer, but decided to leave it at that in the interest of wandering onward to another spot of interest - one that perhaps didn’t smell quite so bad.
As my spot on the earth rotated away from the sun, toward the dark depths of space, the girl and other visitors wandered to their cars and drove away. I was left alone to sit and contemplate, in peace, this place in time and space. I often let my imagination take me to other times of a place where I am. This place is filled with tall evergreens, a lively stream, and patches of wildflowers. A family of deer stepping gingerly uphill past me and a steaming hole in the earth. A mountain lion was recently spotted near here so there are signs warning visitors to be alert and to travel in groups. There are sturdy graphic signs that tell human visitors to the area about the geologic, natural and human history of the spot. If I walk backward down the road of time about 600,000 years ago - a mere few feet on the great map of existence - this is a place of molten lava, massive explosive forces, flying rock, ash and steam.
I turned away from the pool to look toward the east and think about exploring down along the stream. The moon was now visible just above what remains of the crater rim of the ancient volcano I stood in. That moon was there, reflecting the setting sun, over the place in time when molten lava, gases, water and forces of geology conspired to fling a mountaintop into the sky. It was there when the first mountain lion set foot on the edge of this stream below me to take a drink. It was there when the first humans wandered into the area in search of food or shelter. It will also most likely be there shining down upon whatever life form walks along this earth in humanity’s footsteps and perhaps stops to sit on a rock, that holds our fossil remains, and watch the moon as it appears above some version of this crater rim.
The world of geological prophecy has vanished. There is only this vast uneasy river of life spreading into every possible niche, dreaming its way toward every possible form. Since the beginning there have been no breaks in that river. The immaterial blueprints were an illusion generated by physical descent. The lime in our bones, the salt in our blood were not from the direct hand of the Craftsman. They were, instead, part of our heritage from an ancient and forgotten sea.
Yet for all this flood of change, movement and destruction, there is an enormous stability about the morphological plans which are built into the great phyla — the major divisions of life. They have all, or most of them, survived since the first fossil records. They do not vanish. The species alter, one might say, but the Form, that greater animal which stretches across millennia, survives. There is a curious comfort in the discovery. In some parts of the world, if one were to go out into the woods, one would find many versions of oneself, with fur and grimaces, surveying one’s activities from behind leaves and thickets. It is almost as though somewhere outside, somewhere beyond the illusions, the several might be one.
- Loren Eiseley, The Firmament of Time
If you don't know ... or want to know more about Loren Eiseley, I recommend a book called The Immense Journey to begin with. There is also a Loren Eiseley Society that has a website, twitter, and Facebook.