Follow Me On
The Woman in White Marble

{Click Marble or visit Books in the main menu}

Dis-Ease: Living with Prostate Cancer

{Click or visit Books in the main menu}

« Fatuous and Arrogant Google Home ~ What Were They Thinking? | Main | How to Make Something Wrong Right or Early Lessons in Ethical Bullshitting »

Dinosaur Footprints and Alternative Facts 

When I was growing up I spent a lot of summers with my cousin Jeff Hildebrand. Jeff was a few years older than me, but we still got along well. Friends more than cousins. I remember one summer when my family was staying at the Hildebrand’s. There was a lot of road development in their area, which meant there were numerous bulldozed mountains of earth (to us anyway)  all over the place. These were great, of course, and served many purposes. One was hiding behind while throwing large hunks of dirt or rocks at passing cars. But what I really remember were the search for dinosaur footprints.

Image from wikipedia.orgLike a lot of children, we were into dinosaurs, but for some reason that particular summer we studied dinosaur tracks and somewhere we got a hold of a book which had pictures of dinosaur footprints. Jeff reasoned, given the fact that there had been so much bulldozing and digging up of the ground in the area, that dinosaur footprints must surely had been exposed. So we made a plan. After dinner we would study the pictures of dinosaur footprints and the next day head to the mountains of overturned.

In the morning we decided that given the nature of our expedition we would first need to make snake killers. A snake killer is a simple device made of two pieces of wood: one long board that functioned as the handle; the other a shorter cross board to be nailed to the handle. We first drove large nails through and along the cross board and then nailed it to the handle. A snake killer was simple but elegant. We went to the garden to test the snake killers effectiveness. We knew what we would find there. Small garden, or garter, snakes, inoffensive and of no harm to anyone. Nonetheless, our snake killers proved lethal. We were pleased and so set out on our quest to find dinosaur footprints.

Jeff wisely decided we should split up to optimize our chances of finding dinosaur tracks. With clear pictures in my head of dinosaur footprints, I went off on my own climbing over one mountain of earth after another. I can’t remember how long I looked, but I do remember feeling a bit skeptical that we would find tracks on top of bulldozed mountains of dirt. Nevertheless, Jeff thought we would so I looked and in short order I heard Jeff calling excitedly that he had found a dinosaur track! I followed the sound of his voice and on the top of a mountain I found Jeff, his snake killer in his right hand, standing over a dinosaur footprint. I got on my knees for a closer look. There was no doubt about it. The footprint Jeff had found looked just like ones we had seen in the book. I congratulated him and reached for a marker. We had tied small pieces of cloth to twigs and tucked them into our jeans. One of these twigs was stuck in the ground next to the dinosaur footprint so we could find it later. We continued our search.

To my surprise not long after his first discovery Jeff was calling out again. And as sure as the sun was hot that day, he had found another dinosaur footprint and this time from a different species. I was very impressed with Jeff’s ability to find dinosaur tracks, but as I walked away to continue my search, thoughts refused to be silenced. For one thing, the footprints Jeff had found seemed awfully fresh and fragile. The pictures in the book were indentations in hard rock. Jeff’s tracks were of soil. And for another thing, given the footprints were so fresh-like, I wondered how they survived the bulldozing and the turning over of the earth?

I pondered these questions as I climbed to the top of a mountain by the side of the road. I stopped at the top, put down my snake killer, and fashioned out of the soil a dinosaur footprint. I pulled a twig with a small piece of red cloth tied to the end from my jeans and marked my find. I then called to Jeff that I had indeed found a dinosaur footprint. In no time at all, Jeff was at my side praising my find. I have to say, it felt damn good. And that was only the beginning. I became quite accomplished in finding dinosaur tracks that day.

Apparently playing make believe is fairly universal in children and that was what Jeff and I were doing. It’s important to note that when children make believe, or pretend play, they do know the difference between play and reality. Jeff and I certainly did. And it would be false humility if I did not also say that children who “have better pretense and fantasy abilities also show better social competence, cognitive capabilities, and ability to take the perspective of others.” If that is true, and who am I to argue, Jeff and I were amazingly socially competent, cerebral, and thoroughly embracing each other’s perspectives that day.

Of course we knew it was all pretend, but what fascinates me is that at no time during our hunt for dinosaur footprints, or any time afterwards, did we blow each other’s cover. The first rule of dinosaur footprint hunting is: you do not talk about dinosaur footprints. We pretended that each of our discoveries were real. No smirks, no giggles, no challenges. At the moment Jeff called me over to look at his first discovery and I accepted the find as authentic we, “agreed,” without words, to play. If I had challenged him, pointing at the footprint was so fresh and that it was simply impossible that it could have survived a bulldozer digging up the ground, we would have dropped our snake killers and gone home. Game over. Instead we marked the find with a twig and moved on. Crucially, however, we never found a dinosaur footprint together. To do so would pushed our willing suspense of disbelief beyond tolerance. I mean we were willing to dig footprints in the dirt, but certainly not in front of each other.

At some point in our lives, however, the willingness, and perhaps ability, to participate in a mutually agreed pretenses ended. As we got older, but before we became adults, we stopped claiming our alternative facts actually corresponded to reality. We would never have agreed, for example, that the sun was shining while we stood in the rain. We never would had said that thousands of people came to watch us discover dinosaur footprint when none did. We would never have declared that we were stable geniuses when it was plan to everyone we were not. We had just become too grown up before we were fully grown up. At some point the pretenses would have been an indication of some psychological dislocation from reality, or mendacity, or both. And if that had become the case, our lives would have gone nowhere.

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>