Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"Dinosaurs" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Discovery" Watercolor & Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Lowell Jaeger 

My son and I edge our way up
steep sides of a badlands ravine.
We stare at scrabble, scanning for shards
of fossilized bone, searching for telltale 
shades of dusty rust-orange hidden
in ancient grey ocean bottom rubble and scree.

We stare.  And stare longer.  He stoops
to gather another chunk of rib or chip of jaw,
and he can name the particular something-a-saurus
who — eons before us — foraged here
on tropical beaches now gone bone dry.

He’s hefting a canvas pack of treasure, his eyes
like raptors’ eyes, honed to razor focus.
I claim only a handful of what I suspect
could be worth holding onto, knowing I’m half-blind
in my ignorance and lack of practice.

My son, too, says he can cross the same ground
succeeding days and marvel at all he’d passed over —
histories buried, millions of years lost, now risen
transformed, invisible as we are to window seat passengers
jetting across the cloudless high blue.  We don’t exist

as far as they can see: a man and his son inching
up a difficult slope, obscured in a jumbled landscape.
While a parched wind murmurs through prairie grass.
While a meadowlark, hidden from view, trills and whistles.
Even the gods may never find us.

On the horizon, mountains continue lifting skyward.

Poet’s Notes:  At sixty-seven, I’m proud to call myself a life-long learner. Come to think of it, I’ve also been teaching for over forty years, so I’m a life-long teacher, too.  I never really cared for school–too many rules, too many schedules, too many bells and tests and grades.  What I love about teaching is that I continue to learn.  Each new semester I’m exposed to fresh faces with new ideas and novel ways of navigating the world.  Learning happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. That’s one of the best lessons I have to teach.

My son is a self-taught paleontologist.  He was born with a passion for the far distant past.  As a small child, he loved to point out to us what he called (with an excited glint in his eye) “dinosaur-land.”  We’d be on a family trip through the high plains of eastern Montana or the badlands of North and South Dakota, and he intuitively understood he was looking at ancient ocean bottom and long-gone forests where giant reptiles once thrived.  

Remember “Barney the Dinosaur?”  Someone gave my son a Barney for Christmas, and he couldn’t restrain his indignation.  “That’s not a dinosaur!” he exclaimed with serious concern that the rest of us might be confused.  No self-respecting dino would ever stoop to living as a stuffed and somewhat silly toy.

My son has let me accompany him on several digs.  What I learned most of all is that fossil hunting is hard work and takes practice.  I’m amazed to watch how my son reads the landscape to know where to start looking for treasure. I’m startled by how much he “sees” that I do not.  Isn’t that what learning is--to see and understand where we were previously unaware?  Then comes wisdom--to glimpse the great expanses of all one doesn’t know.  And then comes the thrill of wanting to know more.

Editor's Note:  "Dinosaurs" was previously published in Broad River Review, Cardinal Sins, and Earth-blood & Star-shine.

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