A couple of weeks ago, you joined me in a walk through my family tree.
When I first saw the 60-page printout of our genealogy, I remember reading the names of ancestors and wondering, who came before these people, and before them?
My family’s name is Morton, which was derived from Moor Town, or the “town on the moor (or hill).” That small description of the family name paints a picture in my mind of scraggly folk tending flocks on the knolls in the old country. I imagine them being like the ragged Scots in “Braveheart,” the hugely popular Mel Gibson movie from 1995, which told the (inaccurate) tale of the Scots’ fight for freedom from England in the 14th century.
I wonder about going back further in our genealogy, back to prehistoric times, back to the Neanderthals, to chimps, to reptiles, to fish, back to single-celled organisms.
There’s a wispy thread from me (and you) all the way back to the beginning of life here on Earth, 3.6 billion years ago.
One might say “life” began when the Big Bang happened, 13.8 billion years ago, when all of the physical matter for life spewed across the newborn universe.
Or one might say that life began 6,000 years ago, when, according to some people’s interpretations, the Bible says God created the universe.
I’ve been relishing the past few weeks in all the amazing programs having to do with our past, our evolution, our genealogy.
I’ve written about the new “Cosmos” series already. Every week, it goes deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. If you’ve missed any episodes, you can find them online at fox.com.
Then there was “Your Inner Fish” series. Jaw-dropping. The first episode of the three-part series was about our waterborne ancestors, the next about our reptilian forebears and the last about our primate family. You can find them online at pbs.org.
And this past week, I’ve been watching the “Inside Animal Minds” series at www.pbs.org/nova.
Here’s what I’ve been learning:
• We have more atoms in one eye than there are stars in the known universe (and there are trillions upon trillions).
• We evolved from tiny reptilian, fur-covered creatures. They were small so they could burrow underground at night, safe from the bigger creatures, like dinosaurs. Because of their burrowing nature, they weren’t wiped out when the mass extinction happened 65 million years ago.
• We wouldn’t be here if the dinosaurs hadn’t died off in that mass extinction.
Even if you don’t believe in evolution, even if you can’t imagine we evolved from apes or monkeys or fish, watching these programs helps us see how we’re related to the other creatures in our world by the material we’re all made of — carbon atoms from star dust. Carbon is the main ingredient of proteins, fats and DNA. And DNA is the life code of all species of animals and plants.
We’re all made of the same stuff.
We have hands whose skeletal and neurobiological systems work the same way as other primates and reptiles. We use the same strategies for sight, for hearing, for touch, for smell (some species have senses that are far more evolved than ours); the same patterns for circulation, for breathing, for digestion, for growing hair.
We have the same physical responses to pain and emotional responses to loss and fear.
Watching these animals, how they’re built, with their exotic colors and patterns and innumerable variations, fills me with delight as I wonder at the face of God in creation.
Every life is a demonstration of the life force — the beating heart, the breathing lungs, the electrical pulses that send trillions of signals a day — to our brains, back to our limbs and our eyes and ears and mouth and nose — telling us moment by moment where we are in the world.
Just as these life forces work in us, the same mechanics are operating in the guts of all the animals on the planet. They are Earth residents, just as we are.
Seeing these programs also fills me with sadness over the ongoing disruption and destruction of habitats throughout the planet, the fouling of air and water, the blotting out of the Earth’s species, as most of us live under the insane notion that we can continue living without regard to the consequences placed upon all of Earth’s creatures.
— This first appeared May 4, 2014, in the Salina Journal.