It struck me last Wednesday, on the Web. The Associated Press was reporting how scientists had discovered in Kenya a second genus of pre-humans some 3.6 million years old. It raised new questions, they said, about the origins of our species. For me, it raised a simple, familiar question: Who, what am I?
The paleontologists Meave and Louise Leakey told Reuters the hominid they found "revolutionizes the way we look at human ancestry."
Said University of California-Berkeley anthropologist Tim White of the find: "If you think of a family tree with a trunk, we're talking about two trunks."
This and the zoo, and the lone rhinoceros nodding as it chewed. Then another from behind a boulder, flapping its ears, and elephants, over the fence, covered in the red dirt of North Carolina. I felt as I watched them sleep and chew, or the monkeys sitting pensively, or hooves marching forward up the knoll, one after the other, curiously unlike.
Life is an instinctual filling of needs, or so I thought. Yet what knew these oblivious herds of the drama of their filling? Better still, what knew I?
Wild as it seemed to me, I could not shake the blasphemy of the notion of a domestic animal kingdom. Still as I read the captions, one after the next with the words "human encroachment, danger" and "extinction," the reality, bleak as it was, revealed its urgency: Would someday children listen as I told of an old phantasm?
"The animal, my children, was a fine creature, but sadly ... "
There at the last refuge my former assumption was shaken. Something about cages, even the open land capped by fence, made for division. After all, wasn't I on one side and they on the other? But why?
Perhaps, I told myself, the question is one merely of complexity. Humans, like other animals, fill needs. They seek food and shelter. They reproduce.