Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Their Talents Did Not Die

We live in an enormously complex society full of moving, often wasteful parts, even the poor amongst us shielded from nature outside and within. One person may take offense over thong underwear, another might draw a gun over a sloppily enunciated diphthong, each while missing the import of a Kevlar windmill about to hit them on the head. Whereas I can find all three things quite charming, in a synthetic environment it's good to back up for some perspective, and even TV commercial breaks are still long enough to allow for some level of communion with our better selves.

So here's perspective, 30,000 years of it. Someone in a cave up in the Swabian Alps (the Black Forest) carved the loon above out of ivory, back when language was still emerging. Someone with excellent vision, patience, and uncommon aptitude; it's only about as big as the tip of your pinky, and you can see where, once, wings were attached. Perhaps mobile wings. It pre-dates the paintings in the Lascaux caves by at least 5,000 years.

Whether religious talisman or child's plaything, whether carved by human or Neanderthal, no one knows. There are scholarly arguments over whether it represents a loon, a duck, or a cormorant. But Albrecht Duerer never painted more beautifully and faithfully than this was riven by forgotten means, and the artist perfectly captured the essence of a water fowl triumphantly straining and levering forward, rising up above the water. I fancy it was a man, a hunter and admirer of birds, who froze its flight in time. Or it might've been a grandmother who painstakingly crafted her own version of virtual reality for a favored child. In making it, he or she must have pondered the nature of wings and flying, with the wonder and longing such consideration implies. If there is one object on all the earth I covet, you're looking at it.

Sometimes when I'm down over the tortures, murders, lies, evils and ridiculous follies our race is capable of, I think about this carving. There's not a doubt in my mind that whoever shaped it was a being of love and talent and promise, in such palpable abundance that I feel their presence. Their awesome, all-enduring intelligence. We are from them, proudly, and our human endeavor will have been worth it even should we end, or ultimately fail to find audacious ways back to god our creator. This little chip of horn whispers, "You need not fail."

No comments: