Dinosaur Tracks

Milo spent the day tracking dinosaurs.

We are camping in northern New Mexico where, according to the signs in the state park, dinosaurs left their tracks. We pulled in late— too late to see our own tracks, never mind the dinosaurs’. Our tent was perched atop a sandstone rise, surrounded by soft-colored boulders, overlooking a beautiful little man-made lake in the middle of the desert.

I wanted to get in earlier, but things took longer than I expected, as they always do. I dithered and changed my mind about how much I should get accomplished before leaving. I worried about things I didn’t need to worry about and, in the end, I was setting up my tent in the dark and sipping a glass of wine just as the stars came out. I let Milo run off leash as we were the only ones in the park— just us and the dinosaurs. It was too late for me to track dinosaurs, so I sat and listened to the many unidentified sounds of splashing and squawking and rustling around the lakeshore. None of them sounded dinosaur-sized.

Much of New Mexico was once a giant sea that reached all the way to Canada and scientists figure this piece of land must have been a beach. The park stands on what was once a dinosaur thoroughfare. Herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs trudged through the mud, passing between a great forest and the sea. The last dinosaurs left 65 million years ago, but most of the tracks were made before that. “More than 100 million years ago,” one of the signs said. Some earlier visitor, apparently as incredulous as I that anything that happened on a muddy beach could survive that long, had scratched off the “million” and written “thousand.” I thought about that. A hundred thousand years was an incredibly long period of time, but I could almost believe it. A hundred million years was outside my ability to imagine.

In the morning, Milo and I walked around the boardwalk, looking at these platter-sized footprints. The signs pointed out the different types of dinosaurs and the direction they were going. One sign pointed out a set of tracks where the dinosaur had hesitated, hopping from one foot to the other and back.

“Can you imagine why it might have done that?” the sign asked, but offered no suggestions.

In another place, a dinosaur steadied herself (for some reason I am sure it was a female) with her tail. The sign pointed out that this was highly unusual, as dinosaurs usually held their tails “several feet in the air.”

I was suddenly very glad I wasn’t a dinosaur.

“Can you imagine why she might have done that?” asks a voice a hundred million years later about that moment on the beach when I didn’t know which way to turn, when I started to do one thing and then stopped, and then realized I wanted to do it after all.

“She usually keeps her tail several feet in the air— except when she slips,” says this altogether-too-observant observer from the unimaginable future.

I looked at all these blunders and missteps recorded for, if not eternity, as near to it as I could imagine and thought of all the times I had stumbled in the mud. I wanted to step back in time, just a hundred million years or so, and reassure these dinosaurs as they slipped and dithered and got their tails muddy.

“It’s okay,” I’d say, “no one will ever know.”

Till next time,
—Carrie

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