Monday, May 1, 2017

Many Happy Returns

I wonder what the baker’s assistant thought as she squeezed blue icing onto our sheet cake, spelling out the words ‘Happy 5,974th Birthday, Mother Earth!’  My friends and I had just learned about Archbishop James Ussher, the 17th-Century Primate of All Ireland who calculated the age of the Earth based in part on the Biblical ‘begats’ from Adam to Solomon. He concluded that the Earth was created at about 6:00 p.m. on October 22 in the year 4004 B.C. Giddy with our own youth, we reserved the shelter in our college arboretum for that chilly autumnal evening and celebrated the birthday of the Earth.

rouses the barred owl
to flight—
across spangles of moonlight
a silent shadow passes

That was 1970. Fast-forward forty years. No longer young, no longer giddy, I learn that those forty years have seen the disappearance of just over half the world’s wildlife.  Fish. Amphibians. Reptiles. Birds. Mammals.  Populations cut in half in just forty years, the prime years of my own eye-blink lifetime on a planet that has been wheeling about the sun for 4.5 billion years. Where life has been evolving for 3.8 billion years. Where vertebrates— fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals—have been flowing through their myriad, ever-changing panoply of forms for over 500 million years.

dinosaur feathers
shimmering in amber . . .
shards of light
in the slow kaleidoscope
                       of deep time

Five hundred million years arising . . . and half gone within my own brief lifespan?

giddy again
I cannot catch my breath--
as time whirls
on gargoyle wings
I join the danse macabre