I believe that during times of transformation, when we are vulnerable and malleable, experiences and images, people and places, imprint upon us deeply, the way they do during childhood. We carry fossils in the soft clay of our bodies.
When my daughter was a baby, when I was a malleable new mother, the days stretched out long before us. We read lots of books and took lots of walks and sang lots of songs. Around the time she was 7 months old, I discovered that the Peabody Museum had free admission from 2-5 p.m. every Thursday. The timing was ideal since my daughter only napped in the car. She would fall asleep on the drive to New Haven, and then I’d let the car idle in the parking lot, enjoying a blissful half hour of reading while she slept.
Inside the museum, we spent most of our time in The Great Hall, a place imprinted upon me from childhood. I would slowly circle her stroller around the colossal Brontosaurus. When she was learning to walk, she toddled between the smooth benches and the exhibit railing, the great skeletons towering above her. Soon she was off exploring, walking through the different rooms, making her way up the stone stairs.
Today, a rare unplanned afternoon before us, I ask if she wants to visit the dinosaurs and she says, “Yes, yes!” This place, imprinted, feels familiar and sacred.
Today we did not need a stroller. She follows the dinosaur prints herself and swats my hand away when we reach the stairs, announcing, “I can do it myself!”
We practice pronunciation as we go. She recites: Triceratops, Neanderthal, javelina, sarcophagus.
She points to Darwin and asks if he is Santa Claus.
Darwin’s work showed that at a very basic level all life is related. The vast diversity of plant and animal species, including humans, has evolved over time from one original source.
We make our way to the fossils, the palm frond and fishes discovered in Wyoming, preserved for 50 million years in siltstone. Underwater evidence. These things we get to keep. Does that many years count as forever?
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