What we thought about...



28th November, 2005

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Our dark family secret

Historians may dicker over the facts, but the McQueen family knows it has good reason to hang its head in shame over its dirty family secret. Though some accounts will tell you that the last great auk, Pinguinis impennis, was clubbed to death in about 1844 by a couple of unscrupulous sailors intent on making a fast quid from a collector, we… gulp… know better. The last specimen of this magnificent, goose-sized bird fell at the foul hands of a McQueen, clubbed to death on the Scottish isle of St Kilda in the dark of night when great, great… grand pappy mistook it for a witch. He was obviously drunk at the time, for why else would he have been hanging out around Hirta's cliffs after dark; indeed, he must have been blind drunk, for even in the pitchest of dark any sober soul could tell the difference between auk and occultist silhouette. How he managed to avoid losing his footing is anybody's guess; drunkard's luck, I suppose. The poor bird didn't have much of a chance — the great auk was the only flightless member of its family. I want to cry every time I think about what my ancestor did.

Most readers are familiar with a simple truth — some creatures such as the dodo (of which only a singed head and foot remain), the passenger pigeon, and the giant Steller's sea cow have become extinct at the hands of man. Should the exhibition “A Gap in Nature” ever come to a museum near you, you must go; you will weep and wail in grief before the life-sized and life-like paintings by Peter Schouten of over one hundred birds, reptiles, and mammals that

we have, in either our greed or ignorance, pushed over the brink. I feel angry sometimes when I contemplate that, though I live in an area that once supported a high population of Tasmanian tigers, I'm never going to see one. (At least, not in this life.)

All readers are also familiar with one set of creatures that lumbered across earth's landscapes for many millions of years before dying out under mysterious circumstances about sixty five million years ago. However, the dinosaurs constitute only one of many groups of unique creatures that have come and gone in a passing parade over the course of the last six hundred plus million years. Few people have heard of mammal-like reptiles, receptaculitids, titanotheres, labyrinthodonts or placoderms. How many Americans are aware that their ranges were once played on by many different species of rhinos, camels and horse-like animals, not to mention deer and antelope?

In this case, ignorance is far from bliss. Public libraries are filled with books detailing amazing plants and creatures that at one time or another graced our planet. I urge you to borrow some of them and make yourself familiar with these denizens of the past. God's creativity knows no bounds. The flora and fauna we see with our eyes today — as awesome as they are — make up but a small fraction of designs that have come off the divine drawing board. You will not only be awestruck at the genius of God, but you will have something to talk about at your next party when conversation dries up.

Don't miss "The First Six Days", a free article on this site surveying the fascinating history of planet Earth


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