Cenozoic desire

Two Million Years Ago, Greenland by paleoartist Beth Zaiken

“…there is no response to art so genuine as the desire, the often heart-rending pull, to be within the work.”
Jim Harrison, from his novella “Julip”

In the distant background, where a low slope rises from the shallow pools of the marsh toward the aspen forest uplands, the herd of caribou tempted me to step through the time portal of the frame, back to a world that had never known a human footprint, never endured the savagery of the ultimate predator homo sapiens. Those unsuspecting caribou triggered my urge to hunt, along with the flock of geese taking wing from some unseen pond, perhaps put to wing by a pair of hunting foxes.

This framed print that I received as an early Christmas present is an illustration created by the paleoartist Beth Zaiken, an award-winning designer, creator and artist who specializes in reconstructions and visual artworks of modern and extinct wildlife, artistic and scientific recreations of animals and habitats that once predominated the Earth. The title of this piece is “Two Million Years Ago, Greenland.” The print is a representation of the landscape of the northern tip of the island that would become known as Greenland as it existed during the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic era.

No one who has lived in the previous million years would recognize this landscape, this environment. But I am nonetheless entranced by this artwork, genuinely desiring to be part of it, pulled to be within it. The mastodons are terrifying, and with my tribe of hunters, I desperately want to stalk one of these elephantine giants, bring it down, flay its hide to build a tipi, devour its coarse red meat seared over a campfire, and carve exquisite scrimshaw on its tusks that will tell the story of our great mastodon hunt to future generations. Although I know that no human hunters ever intruded on this scene.

Homo sapiens, modern humans, the current epitome of hominid evolution and the only surviving hominin species, has walked the Earth for only the previous 300,000 years. Depending on one’s characterization of the physical and mental traits that define human, we might include Neanderthals (H. sapiens neanderthalensis) and extend humankind’s presence to about 800,000 years ago. Still just the blink of an eye in the geological age of our planet. And about 1.2 million years too late to have hunted these Greenland marshes.

That does not inhibit my fantasies, my desire to walk into this print.

In addition to dozens of other paleo artworks, Zaiken has created a mural titled “Pleistocene Boreal Bog” for the New York State Museum (https://bethzaiken.com/new-york-state-museum-boreal-bog-mural) that I feverishly covet as a wrap-around print on the walls of the family room in our new home in Rochester, Minnesota. The obvious danger is that I would disappear into the Pleistocene geological epoch that lasted from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, the period that includes Earth’s most recent Ice Age and archeology’s Paleolithic Age (Stone Age) of prehistoric humankind.

If I could undergo mutation to my 20-year-old self, I would be more than willing to take that risk.

More of Beth Zaiken’s works can be viewed at https://bethzaiken.com/

A few of her prints are available at https://society6.com/art/2-million-years-ago-greenland

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About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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2 Responses to Cenozoic desire

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ll have what you’re drinking!!

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