Monday, September 12, 2011

Good Old Days?

I am currently enrolled in a certificate program for paleontology, a subject I have always been interested in but never explored academically. One of the required courses is geology. Our professor explained about the tectonic plates (the Earth’s surface is in a constant state of flux) and their rate of movement. For instance the sub-continent of India is colliding into Asia and is building the Himalayan Mountains. These events, of course, are happening on a geological time scale, which can take place over thousands if not millions of years. The plates move on average between five and ten centimeters per year. I know this must come as a shock to many die-hard Tea Party members out there.

Doing some quick calculations, I discovered that the surface of the Earth has moved over ten meters in my lifetime. So if you think candles on a birthday cake can make you feel old, how about being able to measure your life span with that of the Earth’s? And the good times don’t end there. My kids love reminding me about the number of stars on our flag when I was born (forty-eight if you’re counting), or the fact that the first satellite had just been launched. Were they the ‘Good Old Days’?

This past month I took my wife up to Cheyenne, Wyoming for her birthday and we stayed at a historical Bed and Breakfast. The Nagel-Warren house was built in1888 and hosted quite an impressive list of dignitaries including President Taft, Theodore Roosevelt (although he wasn’t president during his stay) and one of the Vanderbilts (with so many of them there should have been a rabbit on their coat of arms).

Inside the hotel was old Wyoming with its stained glass, porcelain tubs, and a mock tin ceiling made of cowhide. Outside was a different story. Situated in the older part of town near the train depot, lay a number of bars, pawnshops, and title companies. Deep down I was wishing for the good old days of the West and that’s when I realize a simple truth. This was the old west. Instead of pickup trucks barreling down the street playing loud, cheap radios and waking up the neighborhood, they had horses and honky tonk pianos with people spilling out of saloons. Hollywood westerns make those days look like a hoot of fun, but the reality is they must have been just as annoying. I’m sure if I lived back then I would have worn a path to the sheriff’s office asking if he could do something about the noise coming from the hookers and drunks or the drunk hookers.

I guess on the flip side of things, maybe times do change but our perspective stays the same. Maybe I’d be a complainer no matter what era I lived in. Well, I guess we know the answer to that riddle. When people ask me “If you could choose a time period to live in, which one would it be?’ I don’t have a quick or easy answer. Romantic images aside, who wants to live before indoor plumbing? Or supermarkets for that matter? Or antibiotics? Then again nuclear threat is no fun time either. And forget about pollution and global warming. I guess it comes down to whether our memories are chaff or wheat filled? How do we want to remember the times we live in? Maybe these are the good old days and we should just be happy with what we have?


New plein air oil off Cottontail Trail near our home.