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Dinosaur Feathers

April 2, 2019

27 of 40

Who knew?

In black morning reading I hit upon a New Yorker article, only because it was on an aggregating site and I had “three free articles left this month.” I had seen a headline earlier about a discovery in the Yucatán area of many dead things, frozen in stone from 70 or 90 million years ago.

(No names or dates here, this is just a musing not a lesson.)

So a young controversial, un-Institute-sponsored paleontologist, complete with Raiders of the Lost Ark editorial allusions and a pipe in the 21st century, sends a “for your eyes only” missive to a writer who popularizes science, the 4th person he has EVER told anyone about his last few years of discovery.

Clearly that discovery, of the writer, not the bones, was immediately important as the last foray of the paleontologist into Superstar Science had not gone well.

He had discovered a new dinosaur,”Dakotasaurus” or the like (presumably in a Dakota) and assembled a skeleton from are area of deposits, held a conference to great curiosity, and VOILA a turtle bone was discovered. Not good.

So in this brief interlude of a young life, this scientist pop culture wannabe stumbles on the mother load of remnants, clustered in the Epic Event that ended dinosaurs and split two epochs (I do not remember the names before dawn, trust me).

The ability to spend a month researching and writing something is not common anymore (for money at least), so only the New Yorker (which is reputed to not have had a profitable year in a couple of score)  can invest the money to send this writer there, to see all these things, some even being pulled out of the ground before his eyes. One a possible mammal, complete with mammal burrow, frozen in death when the 6 mile wide asteroid hit just a hundred or a bunch more miles away.

”If it is an unknown species I will name him after you,” declares the desperate scientist.

The writer then describes The Event that, and this I do remember, killed 99.999% of ALL life on the planet. But maybe not the dinosaurs, they might have died earlier. Or maybe. The explosion from this asteroid hit sent earth detritus all the way to Saturn, where particles reached out to, as the author said, “spread life” after being several times hotter than the sun.

Needless to say, the sweep of holocaust and ego was extreme, on all levels.

Amid this drama was the proposed fact that the paleontologist noted that he had found fully frozen in (and as) stone dinosaur feathers. One 18 inches long. They had to be dinosaur feathers because no birds had been found.

Or Dakotasaurii.

Pre dawn this was daunting. Until I saw the cartoon image nestled between paragraphs above these words: two women are sitting on a bench centered before a large abstract painting, one says to the other “I like this painting because it has a bench.”


Where you stand is where you sit.

The extremely huge realities of conjecture, of evidence layered upon theory upon evidence that pile up to 150 years of evolving realities of dinosaur feathers crashed down to one simple reality. Where we can sit and see determines what we see.

The desperately desired effort at truth is bound by 70 or 90 million years of distance, scores of feet of stone, and, well, each human set of eyes and its accompanying brain.

My bench was my bed and the New Yorker. The author had his story. The paleontologist had a lot of rock born death. But all of us, each of us sits on the bench of who we are.

Does it matter that dinosaurs had feathers? That naked dinosaurs with leathery skin were what all we school children studied, then another generation changed those grey and brown skins to bright colors, then those colors turned into feathers? I guess so. But what really matters is that some people devote their lives to their bench, go at it with a desperation that only offers the rest and repose of those women in the cartoon if they make a painting you can see.

Who knows what this means, if the dinosaurs were killed by the meteorite or were killed by aliens seeking a food source? No one. Maybe we will, given enough time. Or maybe not.

Will knowing what the article breathlessly tells (amid deep journalism back ground and context) (in a bunch of thousand words) change any way we live our lives? No. But the story really is about the lives the the writer and his subjects. We stand where we sit.

I sit on my exercise bike, moving for these 90 minutes and for 40 days I write these things. I think it matters to me, as I have ended the TV these mornings and coffee and Diet Coke and lunch from my days these days.

Am I “better”? Most assuredly not. Am I learning? Sure. If I could abide reading others’ lives it would be easier. But I write things instead. Is it “better”? Most assuredly not.

Just like the dinosaur may have been called to have a skin of feathers, this is my skin, my bench, any metaphor for simply being what God made me. The writer, the paleontologist, you, did not make yourself. You, like the dinosaurs, were made then you made your world.

Meteorites change everything in every life. Things crash, things triumph. But they are all gifts, because the unbelievably infinite complexities we do not see or care about are not understood, let alone made, by us.

This is why silence helps. The sturm und drang of the inconsequentially fascinating – the article, our career, the game – becomes what it is: a comforting bench. We look at what we want to see. But looking out is just our natural safe spot.

Being loved and loving trumps all the noise. Especially in Lent when I can know it.


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