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Nothing But Blue

November 22, 2011

Eastern Saskatchewan

Cruising down the Pembina Highway in the middle of the day, I had one of those moments of perfect stillness and perfect clarity, the sort of moment that only happens when you are alone and speeding. The sky was bluer than prairie blue, the sun was bright, and I was in the middle lane with no traffic for two blocks in front of me or two blocks behind. The road was absolutely straight and clear, and the traffic light ahead was green. What could possibly go wrong?

Glancing at the speedometer I realized that, with that sense of serenity and no nearby reference point, I was moving far faster than I had thought. Easing my foot from the gas, I wondered if that feeling of stillness at speed might be analogous to the situation for many species, during the long intervals in evolution when environmental conditions are relatively stable and they are under little selective pressure.

La Pocatière, Québec

Do they, metaphorically, coast along with not a care in the world, with no idea of how fast they are going or when they are going to hit a sudden curve or a hidden red light? The trilobites, driving Model T Fords (obviously), chugged along every highway in the early days, but their wheels fell off and one by one they all went into the weeds. The dinosaurs, in their Detroit steel Camaros and Boss Mustangs, drove fast but eventually hit the sort of multi-car pileup that fills a commuter’s darkest dreams.

Meanwhile, the horseshoe crabs and lingulid brachiopods must be the little old ladies of the evolutionary highway. They have driven longer and farther than anyone else, their Plymouth Valiants meandering a slow and steady way well below the speed limit in evolution’s right-hand lane. They probably drive the species behind them crazy!

This Dodge Diplomat reminds me of the horseshoe crabs and lingulids: slow-moving, rather the worse for wear, but it still keeps moving along, and the load of lumber on the roof provides plenty of contingency!

And what of the fabulously clever Homo sapiens? We have our gleaming new Lamborghini, fresh out of the showroom. We gun the motor and make obscene gestures at the other species, using our massive acceleration to transform them into specks receding in the rearview mirror. But we never bother to check the speedo or the gas gauge, and there is a big patch of black ice just around the next bend, hidden in the blinding glare out of that clear blue sky …

Times Square (photo by Vicki Young)

© Graham Young, 2011

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