I find myself thinking about your theory of evolution and your notions on natural selection a lot these days. To tell the truth, I’m more perplexed than ever. I just can’t fathom how we all derived from a common ancestor, someone or something who crawled out of the primordial muck millions of years ago. A hippo and a hummingbird? An octopus and an orangutan? Krill and kangaroos? Republicans and Democrats? Really? There is so much that is unique about life on this planet that I can’t figure out how there could possibly be a common ancestor. How did we ever get here?
When your theories stump me, my mental pendulum swings to the other side of the great debate. To the Genesis story; you know the one I mean: how God made all this happen in six days, and then was so spent that He needed to rest on the seventh. Simple as that story seems, it’s equally implausible to me, so I lie awake at night, tossing and turning, trying to figure it all out.
And I can’t.
I wish I could have been with you aboard ‘The Beagle’ on your voyage to the Galapagos back in 1835. It took you four years to get there, and maybe during that time you would have helped me understand this conundrum. I’m not saying I would have been able to wrap my mind around all the great mysteries you were unraveling, but it would been worthwhile listening to you as you moved closer and closer to your truth. Maybe if I had been there with you, I could have asked you the questions that bang around in my mind today, and you would have been able to calm the storm. You seemed quite capable of swimming against the tide in your time, so my simple questions would have posed no threat to your genius. I imagine you might have given me and my questions a moment’s thought, and then would have made it all so simple that even a monkey up in a tree could understand.
I realize that after all these years, this letter arrives on your doorstep out of the blue. Sorry about that. I can’t even explain to you why I’m writing this to you now. Maybe because it’s a new year and there’s a lot going on in the world these days that’s hard to comprehend. Maybe if I had a firmer grip on evolution, I’d have a clearer image of where we’re heading. But the truth is, the future is as murky to me as the past. So I’m hoping you can help me make better sense of where we came from because if you could, then maybe I’d feel better about where we’re headed.
Did you see all this coming? When you were first observing those swimming iguanas and those blue-footed boobies and beginning to formulate your ideas on changing genetic traits that would lead to new speciation, did you have any inkling that maybe we were on the road to extinction? That just as there was a cataclysmic beginning to life on this planet, so would there someday be an inevitable end? Or is there another conclusion, one that offers a happier resolution to the unfolding drama of life on our planet?
If there is, please get back to me before the Iowa caucuses. I don’t understand that mess either.
PS: I’ll be right back
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.