Thursday, October 22, 2009

When Giants Roamed the Earth

Happy birthday to Me, Happy Birthday to Me, Happy . . . you get the idea.

My phone rings. “Happy Birthday, Grandma.” It is three year old Annie and her teen sister Nadia. “How old are you today, Grandma,” asks Annie.

“I remember the dinosaurs,” I reply.

“Oh, Grandma, you must be reee-ally old,” said Annie. They are on speaker-phone. I hear sophisticated Nadia snort and leave the room. “Tell me, tell me all about them,” Annie demands.

I’m a poet, not a scientist. I describe giants roaming the earth, green and brown and purple. Then I contemplate that scientists also must be poets to be able to flesh out in color the look of the beasts, beginning with nothing more than a pile of bones. “I’ll show you what it was like in the dinosaur days when you visit,” I promise.

When they arrive, we head out to the ranch owned by a young man from my high school days. I had phoned ahead for permission to take the children out into a field where cattle grazed. I carry a thick blanket folded over one arm.

We slip the wire off the post and go through the gate. The barbed wire gates braced with diamond willow stays have not improved in design in fifty years. I struggle to get it closed. “Those are cows,” Annie crows. “Where are the dinosaurs?” Nadia rolls her eyes.

By luck, we have chosen a balmy spring day for our scientific expedition. I spot the perfect slope for the experiment, neither on the crest of the hill nor in the bottom of the coulee. I spread the blanket on the grasses and we lay down. Immediately Annie jumps up and wanders off in exploration of buttercups and rooster heads. She gathers a fistful of wild flowers, a gift for her Grandma. With promises of dinosaurs and cookies, I induce her to stretch out with her big sister and me on the blanket.

I string together stories of dinosaurs, inland seas, and glaciers building huge moraines of gravel. I’m being nine parts poet and one part scientist. We cover a lot of geologic ground, when Annie tugs at me, “Grandma, the cows are coming. We need to go home.”

“Goodness no, child. This is why we are here. Rest your chin on the ground and watch the cows. Pretend we are as small as those little gophers popping out of their burrows. See how the cows seem to get even bigger as they come closer.” The girls settled into the game. They hardly breathed as the cows in their curiosity wandered right up to us, snuffled at our heads and then went back to grazing. Nadia’s eyes were as full of wonder as her little sister’s.

“Whoa. Grandma, he sniffed me. I’m scared.”

“Nobody said being a scientist is easy. We are lucky. Our monsters are plant eaters, so they didn’t want us for dinner. Now let’s eat cookies.”

That afternoon we visited our famous local dinosaurs, Elvis and Leonardo, at the museum and the field station in Malta . Both kids were entranced with the exhibits. The next day we drove to Eastend , Saskatchewan to see Scotty , Canada ’s most complete T. rex. Where are the dinosaurs? Dead ahead.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Home Again
April 9, 09

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