There is something terribly wrong with this dinosaur picture. At first I didn’t notice it either. I must have read this picture page with my son ten times before I saw it. But when I did, my blood ran cold. How could this be? What was going on? I don’t mind telling you, there’s something very unsettling about discovering a kink in the nature of reality through a children’s book. Any other place is bad enough, but a children’s book? I just wasn’t prepared. How could I be?
Of course you didn’t need to look at the picture ten times. You noticed it right away. Before you even started reading this post. But there are some readers (not you) who didn’t. I urge them to take another look. To really give this picture the once over. As soon as your breath catches, as soon as the back of your neck gets cold and you start having nightmares, right now while you’re still awake, you know you’ve found it.
Crazy, isn’t it? At first I thought it was an honest mistake, some kind of artistic license. Draw a bunch of aquatic dinosaurs frolicking around in prehistoric oceans. Add some coral, add some reef, postulate the existence of cretaceous jellyfish, why not? There is no way to disprove that. And then, well, you give them something to play with. Like what you ask? What might one find at the bottom of an ocean? A sunken ship, maybe?
Well, no. Not really. Not when the closest estimation of the gap between dinosaurs and humans is around 60 million years. That’s not even a near miss. I’m having a hard enough time explaining to my dinosaur-obsessed four year old that there are no more living dinosaurs. That each and every one of them just happens to be dead. Never mind all the movies and picture books and merchandising. They are gone. It’s bad enough that I cannot answer his always ensuing enquiry of “WHY?” with a satisfying answer. (Well, son, there are different hypotheses ranging from climate change to meteor showers and, although no definitive proof can be found to exclude any hypothesis specifically, the one thing they all have in common is that they end with the dinosaurs going extinct.) So I don’t need his favorite picture book casting doubt over my already shaky explanation.
My son doesn’t give up easily, though. What about the zoo, he wants to know. I tell him there are elephants at the zoo, which are pretty big. And there are crocodiles, which are a kind of dinosaur, but there are, and this I swear to him, no tyrannosaurus rexes. Not a single one. Not even, I add to head off his next question, a tiny little one tucked away in a forgotten corner somewhere. They are all gone.
But of course the creators of children’s books are far from stupid. They are in the business of explaining the world, the entire universe even. They have access to far more information than we laymen do. Of course they have, they are educating our future generations, after all. They have access to secret government labs, to experiments, to NASA data. And you’re not surprised to hear this, not in the least, as a species we’ve always suspected as much. So this is why my blood ran cold. They did make a mistake with this dinosaur picture, but it wasn’t an oversight, it was a leak! Scientists have apparently known for a while that society, as nature itself, is in fact cyclical. Before the human came the dinosaur, before the dinosaur came simple multi-cellular life, and before simple multi-cellular life came… yes, the human! We’ve been here before. Many times. 5 billions years of earth history is a long time. It’s long enough for over 80 cycles of dinosaurs and humans and the huge amount of time in between them! We’ve been fools for not figuring this out sooner. We’ve been popping in and out of existence like popcorn and we didn’t even know it!
Scientists are trying to work out how long each cycle of human existence lasts, and what ends up wiping us out. If we can find a common denominator, we might predict our future, adjust our cycle, hang on to life a little longer this iteration. In the meantime, though, they don’t want us to panic. Not more than we’re already doing.
But some renegade children’s book illustrator apparently decided that enough was enough. It was time for the truth to come out. I can picture him right now, drawing away, an evil grin on his face, putting boats and cars and discount cellular phone shops in dinosaur books for all age groups. This will get the word out, he thinks. This will stick it to the man!