The Salem News
Friday, August 29, 2003
As we checked out Mars with my telescope, and Chip took photos for my grandchildren, I couldn't help thinking about how simple life was the last time Mars was this close to Earth 60,000 years ago.
You woke up, stretched, and thought about getting something to eat. Most of the day was spent hunting for that something to eat, with a break for a nap. Eventually there would be a search for a relatively safe and comfortable shelter for the night, if you didn't already have a cave of your own.
In cooler months, there would be time spent finding and tending a fire, and making sure the animal skins were prepared for use as winter clothing.
The men would think about food, and go hunting; when they were home, they'd work on their weapons and tools. You'd watch the kids, groom them, and watch for hostile animals or other tribes. But you wouldn't worry over much, not having a great imagination. What happened, happened; you dealt with it, took your losses, and moved on.
In the evening, you'd enjoy the sunset, then watch the stars come out and the moon change phases.
Sometimes there would be something out of the ordinary:
Look at that big bright red thing, getting bigger every night. Wow!
Red, the color of fire and berries. Fire, warm; berries, sweet; red is good.
But red also the color of blood., Uh-oh! Red, bad?
Guess I'll think about it tomorrow after breakfast. What this tribe needs is a religious leader who can explain this stuff to us.
Until then, I'll eat, sleep, keep warm, and enjoy the family and sky until I die, which will be relatively soon. Food supplies are unreliable, the tiger roams at night, and some other hairy creatures want my cave!
Even so, even so: Do you feel a touch of envy? Summer begins to end, but there's no Labor Day, no job, no school. No employment anxieties, no shopping with teenagers who don't like dress codes, no shortage of day care for the babies.
No cars needing registration renewed, no homeowner's insurance due, no car insurance due, no taxes due. No need to order oil, clean gutters, remove air conditioners, paint the deck. No home phone, business phone, cellphone, fax or doorbell ringing. No e-mail with 20 spam messages for every legitimate one; no new reality shows on TV. No TV.
No legislature coming back into session, no political campaigns, no speeches, no lies, not much talking at all.
There are grunts, pointing, maybe laughter. Did early man laugh?
I'll bet he did, at the early-man equivalent of the Three Stooges: Someone trips over a bone, falls down; someone swings a club over his shoulder, accidentally bonks his brother. Early woman, however, just rolled her eyes.
I'd miss sophisticated laughter. Conversation. Books. Television, especially "O.C." and "American Dreams"; maybe "West Wing." I want more complicated music than drums and the wind in the willows.
Other than these things, and my job, my days aren't that different from when Mars was here last. I wake up, stretch, and think about food. Try to remember to watch the sunset and look at the stars.
Enjoying the family requires phones and a camera, and now and then an airplane flight. I'd miss airplanes, but if the whole tribe was right here, they wouldn't be necessary. I wouldn't even know about the faraway valleys, countries and continents that I would long to see if I knew they were there.
There wouldn't be much history to learn, and I'd have no hint about DNA
-- though here it would be, in my red blood, busily forming itself into the survival mechanisms that would still influence behavior the next time Mars came close to earth.
As I look at Mars this summer, the best part is: I can enjoy my choice of today's complexities, like the telescope and camera, while also enjoying the simplicity of the dawn of man (eat, sleep, be warm).
I can find plenty of food at the market, wear wool instead of fur, play five CDs in a row, put a bandage on a bleeding wound. If civilization presses too hard, I can turn off the phone, vacation at a cabin in the woods, and drive to a lonely beach where my bare footprints look primitive in the sand.
I've evolved to the point where I can have it all. Thanks, Mars, for dropping by and reminding me.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited
Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun;
bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.