More than one way

Dinictis Sp. mounted in a Cheetah running pose
Dinictis Sp. mounted in a Cheetah running pose

I squinted at the pale, splotchy skeleton before me, wet my brush, dabbed it into paint, dabbed it on a paper towel and brushed color onto the plastic part of the skeleton.  The effect is that the real bone pieces embedded in the plastic, glued to the sculptured parts blended seamlessly with the whole.

The animal skeleton before me was from the mammal family nimravidae; the false sabre-toothed cats.  False sabre toothed cats they are because nimravids aren’t related to their more famous relatives in the Smilodon genus so in vogue at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum.  The similarity between the two groups of mammals is eerie.  Both mammals have retractable claws.  The spinal column between the two is virtually identical.  Of course both nimravids and sabre toothed cats have the famous sword-like incisors.  Nimravids aren’t even true felines.  Since they’ve been long extinct, skinning wasn’t necessary but nimravids prove that there’s more than one way to be a cat.  That’s the essence of convergent evolution; finding a different path to the same place.

Pronghorn’s emphasize the point.  Pronghorns are often called antelope even though they’re not related to African antelope.  More interesting is their speed.  The pronghorn is way too fast for any predator left in North America, which should leave the curious scratching their head wondering why?  A possible reason is the imprint of a ghost on their evolution.  The ghost of the American Cheetah may have left the fastest ungulate in North America while the fastest predator is in Africa.  America’s pronghorn evolved to run from America’s cheetah.  This is where things get really interesting.  The American Cheetah (May she rest in peace) wasn’t a real Cheetah either.  More than one way to be a Cheetah.

The history of environmentalism in America is just as interesting as the fossil history of mammals.  Teddy Roosevelt is easily seen as the face of the official, government endorsed conservation movement in the U.S.  Since Roosevelt, millions of acres of land have been set aside in parks, in Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.  We’ve created sandy National Seashores and wildlife preserves full of the calls of birds and the flutter of wings.  Long before the Teddy Roosevelt bellowed “Bully!” or took the bull moose as the emblem of himself and the progressive movement, these places existed.  The thing that changed with the American Conservation movement is one of land ownership and law.

It seems that many of the natural places we today enjoy are here not because they are owned by federal or state governments but because they were here before state or federal governments existed.  Land ownership appears to be a value brought to the Americas with Europeans in most cases.  Land wasn’t destroyed by Native Americans partly because they didn’t have the same ideas of owning land that Europeans had, all land seemed to be held in common among each tribe or group of natives.  Once land could be owned, land could be destroyed at will without deferring to others.

What Teddy Roosevelt and those in his movement did was subtle.  Land ownership was turned against itself.  Instead of an individual being said to own land, certain pieces of land was said to be owned by the federal government; that is all citizens.  Being a representative government, the feds decided how best to represent the interests of its citizens, in this case by preserving environments, wildlife and recreation opportunities.  The problem with the whole system is that it is based on the concept of land ownership which subjugates the earth to something to be subdivided among humans.  In Rooseveltian conservation there is only the concept of the earth as exceedingly valuable and beautiful but still objectified.  A man might pay a million dollars for a prostitute but this does not mean he respects her.  Native Americans managed to after thousands of years inhabiting the Americas leave plenty to be conserved by their white inheritors.  More than one way to be a Bull Moose.

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