You can still see part of the large yellow triceratops head someone painted on the bridge support. I think, or at least hope, it was the same artist who came back and painted over it with a more detailed mural of a triceratops, probably a mother, followed by her baby, walking past bones under a lunar cycle. Or maybe it’s meant to represent three stages in the life of a triceratops: youth, maturity, death. It’s such a fascinating piece and it’s strange to think about the artist wading through water—the depth of the creek varies with the weather but it’s usually one to two feet—to paint it.
Dinosaurs are so popular it’s hard to know where to start with them, but one of the things that comes to my mind is where they ended. Triceratops were around for about three million years. Most bones don’t fossilize. Most bones naturally decay; it’s only under very special circumstances that they turn into rock, and it’s only by sheer chance that those fossils get buried, preserved, and then exposed again so we can find them. The fact that we’ve found so many triceratops skeletons speaks to just how successful they were—they must have been everywhere. And then they just disappeared in the sudden mass extinction that happened about sixty-five million years ago.
It’s not hard to see why dinosaurs, giant reptiles roaming the planet, are so fascinating to so many of us. Even a gentle herbivore grazing on plants like a giant cow—a cow with a massive bony shield covering its face and three horns—is fun to imagine. But I think their sudden end is also part of their appeal. The idea of a T. Rex chasing you, ready to clamp down on you with its giant mouth full of teeth, is terrifying, but it’s even more terrifying to think that a single asteroid hitting a small spot in the Gulf of Mexico could have affect every single part of the planet, wiping out animals that had thrived for millions of years.
It’s a reminder that it could happen to us.
Of course it will happen to us. One way or another extinction is inevitable—nothing lasts forever—but our first ancestors lived about two and a half million years ago. We’ve done so much in such a tiny fraction of that time—so much that’s shown our potential for survival, but also our penchant for destruction. For self-destruction. We’re still confronted regularly with the question, are we as a species in our youth, in a mature stage, or are we on the precipice?
We’re also very aware that our time is finite which is why we apply pigment to rocks. We do it in the hope that something of us will survive, in the hope that, whatever happens to us, whatever we do to ourselves, there will be a record that says, we were here.