Recently, I unexpectedly found myself in the midst of an existential crisis of sorts. I guess no one anticipates an interpersonal philosophical disaster, but I really didn’t see this one coming. I am a planner and my metaphorical calendar had been swept up in a storm, the future date pages swirling in a blizzard of disarray. I felt like one of the people standing in a money-blowing machine, frantically grabbing at the dollar bills, but mine were pre-filled out calendar pages I wanted back.
So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I set out on an adventure to find some solidarity with the earth under my feet, to reach up into the wind and grab a page or two back and to find some meaning out on the new horizon.
Goose, ever the unintentional philosopher, suggested we head out to find some dinosaur bones, so I called upon our prospector friend Bob Ross who would know just the spot to take us to pick up the pieces.
We met him in the early morning usual rendezvous fashion and then drove until we hit the New Mexico state line, then drove some more. I got out and walked until I found myself surrounded by towering buttes and three wild horses, whose presence was as unexpected as my existential disaster itself. Somehow, their rogue existence brought some beauty to the fear of the unexpected.
Walking through the desert, Goose picked up every rock she saw holding it up for Bob to see proudly proclaiming she had found a dinosaur bone. As we made our way deeper into the landscape, Goose picked up a handful of dirt and let it slip through her fingers.
“Each seven to 10 inches of dirt out here represents about a thousand years,” Bob told us, watching as the past blew off and disappeared into the horizon.
It wasn’t 10 minutes before Bob pointed out the first real dinosaur bones. I don’t know what I expected to see, but there they were just lying there, the past interspersed amongst the present, the moment as striking as the realization that the two expanses in time are so interrelated.
Bob knelt down with Goose and placed a bone in her hand and told her that she was holding onto 120 million years of the past and told her to look around at the landscape and to imagine Cycad palms, green ferns, water, a completely different environment.
I knelt down next to my tiny paleontologist; dinosaur bones lay strewn across the arid landscape. The pieces too dispersed and weathered to reassemble into any semblance of its original form, yet I found myself on my hands and knees searching for the missing pieces of the bones. Then it hit me; I would not find them all and, more importantly, that was all right.
The bones were as they are and they could never be put back together, the dinosaur would never roam the earth again, but I could pick up the pieces that were the most significant and preserve them in my memory.
I saw something black shimmer in the sun and as I picked it up. Bob’s eyes reflected the same glimmer, and his face lit up in a jackpot smile.
“Hey girl, that is part of a T-Rex tooth,” he exclaimed.
He took my finger in his and traced the sharp serrations along the edge and then across the smooth black enamel. As I let myself trace the tooth in my fingers, I allowed my mind to contemplate how something so massive and terrifying that could have consumed me without thought was now in the palm of my hand.
I closed my hand around the 72-million-year-old tooth and exhaled a deep breath. That tooth became a beautiful lesson in mastering fear.
It is ironic to find answers to such humanistic questions in a Jurassic environment. I’d set out on a mission with existential questions, and Goose had set out to find dinosaur bones. Ultimately, it was the bones that led me to my answers. When I excavated the dirt in my soul, the past answered the present.
More than the bones that filled her treasure bag, what I really wanted Goose to take away from this adventure was the same lesson I did: sometimes it’s better to let the pieces lie where they are than trying to reassemble them. Sometimes the pieces and shards of memories fell where they did for a reason and that it’s easier to resurrect a memory than to reconstruct the past.
With the three wild horses watching from a distance, I left my existential skeleton in the desert for the sands of time to blow and cover, knowing that one day the right paleontologist will come along to excavate it and find beauty in what I left behind.
Jenny can be reached at email@example.com