December 27, 2009
Before I get to the lizard and the old guy whittling on the front porch, I need to explain right off the bat that I am, pretty strictly speaking, an atheist and evolutionist.
By that, I mean that I think life developed and evolved through enormously complex combination of luck, genetics, and huge gobs of time.
Creation myths are stories primitive peoples made up to explain how they got wherever they were. In those stories, they inevitably put themselves at the top of the pile. You know, the whole “Lords of Creation” thing.
My sole caveat is that I don’t think we have a clue about how the universe really works and our place in it.
One of my favorite quotes is fro
m J.B.S. Haldane, a British-born geneticist and evolutionary biologist, who once said “…my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we CAN suppose.” (emphasis mine)
In other words, in the final analysis, we’re simply not bright enough to get the big picture.
That’s perfectly fine, as far as I’m concerned.
The universe has no beginning and no end, the theoretical physicists tell us. (See what I mean? I can’t make that picture happen in my mind. And I’ll bet you can’t either.)
The bottom line is that our opinions about the whole whirling, blinking thing will never make any difference at all in the grand scheme of things.
I don’t find this depressing at all. In fact, I find it liberating. It’s like being a kid in a roomful of toys and being told that you can play with anything and nobody is going to yell at you for scratching the furniture.
So, as an atheist, I figu
re I can imagine God any way I want.
No, no, it’s NOT hypocrisy. Look, how the heck do you talk to the Universe, that whole wind-up whirligig that is traveling in all directions at once but can’t be going anywhere because it’s already everywhere? Trying to talk to that will have you on the express lane to slap-happy in no time at all.
So, when I need to address The All, as I occasionally feel compelled to do, or even imagine it creating, destroying, or just plain twiddling its celestial thumbs, I imagine some older fellow, some guy I imagine I can talk to. It is much easier than setting fire to the shrubbery and trying to hold a conversation with it. I mean, if it was a long discussion, I could go through a lot of bushes.
More often than not, I picture an older guy, past his prime but still sharp, in a sturdy pair of logging boots, denim bib overalls, a long-sleeved khaki shirt, and
an old fedora.
He’s usually whittling something with an old Barlow knife.
I’ve never seen his face.
Sometimes he’s wearing a Hawaiian print shirt because, well, you just never know, with Him. Now and then he does the unpredictable.
That’s him in the artist’s rendering I snagged off the Internet.
I first saw a model of the little guy at the Pennsylvania State Museum a week or so back while I was working on an unrelated story.
In life he was four inches or so from his snout to the base of his tail.
But he had wings. I mean, he had four legs AND wings.
OK, on this planet we have rules. If you’re a critter with a backbone, you get four limbs, or at least you started out with four, and maybe lost a couple, like whales lost their back legs, owing to yet another regulation called “use’em or lose’em.”
You can have your four limbs as flippers or hooves, and you can break them up into combinations of four legs, two legs and two wings or two legs and two arms, but it’s all gotta add up to four.
So, here’s this lizard standing on his little tree branch flouting his superfluity of limbs, and I don’t know what to think.
Which exactly what I say to Bob Sullivan, the senior curator in paleontology and geology who, as it happened, was holding the little lizard sculpture at the time. Bob, I said, a six-legged lizard? Or words to that effect.
No, not at all, said Bob. Those aren’t limbs. Those are ribs, extensions of his ribs, actually. He could spread them out and glide, and steer with them, and when he landed, they folded up along his sides.
I blinked. The little lizard couldn’t have blinked, but it kind of looked like he wanted to. Or maybe it was a wink.
I told Bob that I’d like to have a bunch of them around the house as pets, but he said they’re extinct. Probably just as well. The cats would be in a constant uproar, what with lizards swooping hither and yon in the house, knocking over the dried arrangements.
So, anyway the little Icarosaur will be lurking in a new display that the museum will open next fall. The display will have as its centerpiece a brand-new reconstructed mastodon skeleton, a splendid thing indeed, but no more a marvel than my little gliding lizard.
So, once again I fall back on the old guy on the porch, in his creaky rocking chair and trusty Barlow, whittling away at his art, maybe at the end of a long day, maybe before his morning coffee, coming up with, of all things, a lizard that glides around on spread ribs, chuckling as he watches it glide away into the world for awhile.
I’d be willing to bet it was of those days when the old guy was wearing the Hawaiian print shirt.
© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: