The Incredible Shrinking Dinosaur

Good to see that evidence for the evolution of birds from dinosaurs is coming together. The Conversation has a story about the latest Australian study, which traced the evolution of theropod dinosaurs over 50 million years, from 163 kg land animals to birds weighing less than a kilo. The Guardian also has this article, with a comments section that houses at least two real, live creationists, a species as much to be marveled at as the dinosaurs themselves. They were happily pecking away at the evidence with complete confidence that Biblical truth trumps the facts every time. Drab plumage, though, unlike the dinosaurs’ brilliant livery.

I’ve always felt a weird sense of loss at the disappearance of dinosaurs after a meteor strike 65 million years ago, as if something amazing had been lost for ever. Judging by the success of Jurassic Park (1993), millions of other people felt the same fascination.

I remember, as a boy, watching a documentary about dinosaurs. I woke up screaming in the middle of the the night, having heard a cow mooing in the field opposite. And there was an April Fool’s Day news broadcast about a suspicious research establishment that bought huge amounts of meat from the local butchers. Roars and bellows were heard coming from the place. I was completely taken in, elated at the thought that dinosaurs were back.

Then there’s the possibility of cloning extinct animals. We should be trying to preserve the ones we’ve still got, but the thought of woolly mammoths roaming our safari parks, or even domestic dodos peering shyly from the shrubbery of suburban gardens, sets my heart a-flutter.

But at least we have the birds, and a few dinosaurs may even survive in Scotland.

Little Birds

The Robing of the Bride (Max Ernst)

I like this sly, surreal poem by Lewis Carroll. It’s nonsense, of course, but there’s a hint of meaning in the lines. Like an itch I can’t quite get at for a proper scratch. You have to wonder what was going through his mind as he wrote it. I’m guessing the birds playing bagpipes on the shore refer to the persistent attentions of  itinerant musicians. And I like the suggestion of secrets, particularly in the “crimes in carpet-bags.” There’s some dirty work at the crossroads going on here.

Little Birds

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.

Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.

Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!

Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.

Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.

Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”

Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!

Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.

Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.

Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.

– Lewis Carroll