Though I’ve read the works of a number of naturalists, Loren Eiseley* is my favorite. The man was gifted with a way of writing that called out faintly from that dark immensity, the vast sweep of time. Like me, he was a walker, but his were through the long ages as a keen observer, a seer, a chronicler of life’s countless and untold adventures. A man in love with time itself, he was infected, touched by a wisp, a shadowy finger of mystery echoing down the endless corridors of evolution. A rememberer.
Perhaps there are genes (and chromosomes) wherein minute pieces of extraordinary experience – the most profound of impressions really – are imprinted and preserved. Genes with tiny windows in them. Yet, once etched, these windows are then, for most of us anyway, shut and sealed up, never to be accessed again, except as an aid in instinct. And possibly, because our heritage is so lengthy, consisting of ancient memories going all the way back to our life in the trees, and far earlier, most of this collected cache is now stored in what we call Junk DNA. Unfortunately for modern science, however, while it tries to peer into these dark rooms, to shine a light there and hopefully extract what secrets may be found, the images are shifting, vague and indistinct.
Yet in some people, for some reason, something happens, something that cracks the seal, turns the latch and lifts the frame on these windows, and out pour the memories. Memories of bygone worlds.
Maybe it was one particularly beautiful morning when they were children. Could have been bright, blue sky with glimmers of sun through gently swaying leaves. Maybe it was a stormy day turned to night, rain falling like sleet, in curtains, with trees tossed to and fro, Boom and Flash of light, running and laughter that awakened it. Or perhaps it was lying on the ground one warm summer’s night, starstruck. Whatever it was, in that moment that man, or woman, was reborn – and suddenly it was all so clear.
We are the earth. We and ten million or so other species. We are the sea and the sky, boulder and mount. Lush grassland and forest, glacier and desert. We’ve been here so long, so very, very long; yes, in different forms, but each of those forms went into making us who we are now. Look into those genes and rouse. Turn the pages of eternity.
In our time we swam and flew, crawled and leaped, howled at prehistoric moons. We sat on grassy hilltops alone, alone in the world, the wind in our hair and our hearts full of joy.
We’ve loved and cried, shouted in triumph and cowered in shame. But we always knew from whence we came. How sad that so many now don’t know, have forgotten, could turn their backs on this precious gift, would swap it for things a million times less valuable. They dream of leaving, pine for the day they can travel to a barren world. One day they may realize what they left behind, who they’ve abandoned. But it will be too late.
Loren Eiseley knew. To him I say, “Thank you”.
*Note: For those interested, Eiseley’s The Immense Journey is a good place to start.