Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why Do This?

Why initiate this blog? Because as I’ve delved deeper into paleontology the feeling has become stronger that there’s some deeper meaning or meanings to my adventures in this arena. I don’t think I can tease them out without the discipline of putting words to “paper.” And I don’t know whether they are deeper insights into the discipline of paleontology or life, or both. I think knowing there is an audience (well, at least, potentially an audience) will add a bit of discipline and spice to it. I am an amateur, for better or worse, at all of this.

At the heart is my fascination with things ancient, particularly those that predate history by millions of years. There’s the tantalizing glimpse I have of life before there was human consciousness that tried to make sense of it. The veil that shields this prehistoric life from our awareness is an impenetrable gauze, we can never be fully there. Yet the veil is so sheer in places that images of those other sanity-challenging times can come through to shock us.

The bitter sweet satisfaction and frustration I feel as I struggle to apply the processes of this science to what I find in the field mirror those I experience when I try to make sense of my quotidian journey through life. Clearly, the disciplines of the mind are not enough for either endeavor. This is an exploration of the necessary blending of science and art, of mind and heart. The essence of striking a balance, I suppose.

I am also in pursuit of the absurdity of this experience, those aspects that make absolutely no sense or are unbearable unless one has a sense of humor. Paleontology without laughter is an enterprise I want no part of, I could have no part of. There is too much that is painful in this that is tolerable only if I cultivate my sense of the ridiculous. How else would I be willing or able to come back and do this again after spending six hours shoveling gravel into a screen, while standing knee deep in a stream in the dead of winter, (and here’s the cruelest cut) without finding a recognizable fossil? How else would I refrain from going home and throwing my “treasures” into my garden when I experience the rush of finding a 60 million year old shark tooth of surpassing beauty only to fall into despair when I realize that most of its root has long since gone missing? Or when I think my day-long exploration of a site has gone well only to miss the truly exceptional specimen that a late comer unerringly spies upon first venturing out? That’s when I have to laugh at it all, every aspect of it all. Though, I must admit, there are times when the laughter fails.

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