Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dinosaurs and Big Trees

Well, God.

What a few days it's been. We've been to London and we took the children to the Natural History Museum, which is a place that inspires awe immediately you clap eyes on it as you emerge into the drizzle from the Tube station.

A wonderful building full of wonderful things. It's just a shame that nowhere does it say that it's all by you - like in the National Gallery all the works are attributed with a little square of information underneath telling you something about the artist - in the Natural History Museum it should say somewhere, 'All exhibits courtesy of the the Maker of Heaven and Earth'.  That would put the cat among the pigeons, wouldn't it?

Hmm.

The high point of the day has to be when Katy got cross with the life size model of the Tyrannasaurus Rex in the dinosaur section of the museum.  T Rex. The King of the Dinosaurs. We'd been telling her all about the dinosaurs and saying that Barney the Dinosaur was based on the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the last and most exciting part of the dinosaur exhibition was the life size moving model of the T Rex.  She could hardly contain herself; I genuinely think that she thought she was going to meet Barney, poor little love.  I think we over-sold it just a smidge.  This T Rex model was very big and very loud, and rather scary if you're small. Elizabeth shrank back, enjoying the thrill of being frightened as it swung it's head towards us, but not our Kate. Katy was cross that some jumped up Barney predecessor was trying to scare her and so, hands on hips, she roared back. And then, when it didn't stop, she roared louder. It was lovely.

As she stalked off she decided with disgust that Barney wasn't a bit like that Tyrannosaurus Rex and she was glad. Who's to say they weren't purple, anyway?  It definitely said somewhere in all the information that we charged past that no-one has ever actually seen a dinosaur. Good point.

Were they? I'm not quite sure how I feel about the possibility that Barney the Dinosaur is an accurate representation of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Your sense of humour, again? 

I don't know if it's just that I'm not intellectual enough (a distinct possibility), but the creation/evolution discussion doesn't really matter much to me.  It certainly isn't something that affects my faith in any way. Maybe I should be engaging more with it; keen to defend you when others are keen to discredit you? But the thing is, it proves nothing to me if someone gives me a bucketload of evidence in favour of a primordial soup or something - I don't know how you chose to bring about the world and everything in it; you Just Did. Likewise, it doesn't worry me that people point to the dinosaurs as proof that the world is much older than other people say. You're older than the dinosaurs, aren't you?  You were here at the beginning, and in the middle, and you'll be the last one standing at the end, won't you?

They were amazing creatures, though, weren't they?  What were you thinking when you made a dinosaur, Lord?  What do you think of the scientists' ideas and conclusions about them?  Does it make you sad that we don't understand and we try to explain things every which way but the way that points to you? 

And while we're on the subject, why did the dinosaurs end up extinct?  Not that I'd like to see some of them walking down my road any time soon, but I'd be interested to have the answer to that one. I understand that it's kept us guessing for a while now.

Anyway.

There's a tree in the Natural History Museum. Well, a slice of a tree. A giant sequoia, to be more specific.  Here we go from the King of Dinosaurs to a tree they call the Monarch of the Forest. Nice bit of symmetry, don't you think?  Ha. 

Anyway.

I stared at this cross section of tree for ages.  It was vast - sixteen feet in diameter, and it had dates on its rings to bring home to us the incredible age of this tree. 

The sequioa was a seedling, minding its own business in what was later to be America, when St Columba landed on Iona in 557AD.  It was growing as Christianity spread in Europe in the 700s and it was getting bigger and bigger during the Crusades.  When Chaucer died in 1400 it was nowhere near as big as it was going to get, and it was standing firm when Columbus climbed into his boat. When Shakespeare was born, this tree was about a thousand years old.  Galileo came and did his thing, Darwin came, wrote a few books and stirred things up, and in 1892 this wonderful 300 foot tree was felled.  

It was 1335 years old. 

And they cut it down. 

Usually, history sort of leaves me cold, Lord.  Nothing personal, but looking at a pile of stones can't recreate ancient Rome for me.  I can read a manuscript dating from centuries ago and fail to be moved by its age.  I can look at artefacts from archeological excavations and not manage to imagine them in some ancient hand. I can hear about the exploits of conquerers and governments from long gone ages but not appreciate the fact that these things actually happened.  It's as if I can't separate fiction from non-fiction. I can't 'feel' history.  Friends and relatives alike have marvelled at my ambivalence to it.

I must take this up with you properly sometime, God. I watch Bryan amazed and thrilled by historical bits and bobs and I wonder at it - I envy it a bit.  If we went to see the pyramids I suspect I'd just be wondering where my next coffee was coming from; why is this bit of me missing?  Why?)

The funny thing is, this tree moved me. I looked at this bit of wood and thought about you. How you watch and love and weep and cheer and frown and laugh and watch some more as history unfolds.  You intervene, you refrain from intervening. You grieve with us and celebrate with us.  Sometimes we make you proud; more often I suspect we make you sad. But you watch and you love.

You looked after this tree when it was just a seed and you made sure that it had enough water and sunlight and you watched the birds sit in it and the leaves grow and fall and grow again; and you watched us cut it down.

Ouch.

Maybe you liked that we then put it in such a majestic spot at the top of the stairs in the Great Hall of the beautiful Natural History Museum.  And then one day I come along and look at it, and think about you.

I had to go and find Bryan and the girls as they'd moved on without me (you know what short work small children make of a museum) and I caught up with them somewhere near the monkeys.

I wonder if, at some point since this precious bit of sequoia came to live at the Natural History Museum, someone else looked at it and thought of you. I hope so. 

If so, it didn't die in vain, did it? 






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