"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Fossils and Elected Officials
One day last fall I windsurfed across the Potomac River in the heart of Washington, D.C . The day was beautiful, sunny and 70 degrees. Peaceful groups demonstrated for ALS awareness, tourists strolled and snapped pictures of the marble monuments, young men filled the playing fields beside the Potomac, bicyclists and joggers passed families ambling along the river's edge while boaters cruised beneath the bridges. Only the occasional commercial jet lofting over the length of the river disturbed the serenity of this doomed city. Coming ashore I noticed curious, square-cut paving stones eroding from the earthen banks of the Potomac and wondered how they got there.
Milky granite, worn smooth on one face, measuring four inches square, these forgotten bits of history rested heavy in the hand. Relics of the 18th or 19th century, these stones perhaps had clattered under the hooves of horses, beneath the carriages of our great colonial leaders. Perhaps these granite stones had witnessed the destruction of our capitol by the British navy in August, 1814, when most of the public buildings, including the Capitol and the White House were torched and abandoned. British admiral, George Cockburn, had intended to demoralize the young nation but the attack, as shocking as it was bold, only united the country. A month later, 15,000 volunteers defeated the British at Baltimore , a battle witnessed by a fellow named Francis Scott Key who wrote a song about it. Ironically, after the destruction of Washington , a New York congressman suggested the capitol be moved to Wall Street, in New York City . He believed it might be wise to move our leaders closer to the center of finance. Great cities rise and fall.
What the British could not do to Washington, D.C. with fire, nature may achieve easily with water, without the slightest help from a network of terrorists. Global warming, in the form of rising sea levels, laps at the embankments of all low-lying, coastal cities now. 'We are facing the first human-created, extinction style cycle that is on the same scale as major geological events of the past, but condensed into an incomparably smaller span of time,' Said Michael Robinson of the Smithsonian Institute. In other words, Washington, D.C. is doomed and her demise is only a matter of time.
At the Smithsonian I sought out the marine fossil specimens, especially those native to the region. Here was mighty Megalodon, the ancestor of the great white shark that lived four million years ago in the warm waters of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay . A predator with teeth the size of broken dinner plates, Megalodon was the reigning terrorist of its day. Stalking prey over the present site of our capitol, this 50 foot shark ruled every sandy estuary and tidal basin. Indeed, both the Capitol building and the White House were constructed of sandstone quarried from these ancient seabeds just south of the city.
Later that fall, I windsurfed across the three-mile width of the Potomac estuary near Fairview , Virginia . I stepped ashore in Maryland and for an hour I gathered fossils'sea worms, tiny sharks teeth the color of ebony, and scallop shells the size of grapefruit'but alas, no Megalodon teeth the size of broken dinner plates. In reality, modern Megalodons evolved rather than became extinct, assuming human form and this species of supershark now inhabits the sandstone recesses of their aquatic predecessors. We, in turn, are the mollusks and flatworms while the mightiest and most-feared creatures in the world glide over the muck and backwater channels in downtown Washington, D.C . The bones of their victims, in the form of foreign policy failure, are as evident at such places as the Black Wall Memorial to Vietnam veterans, as the evidence of bleached cliffs are to the fossil record.
In my search for Megalodon, I thought of the relative kinds of terrorism we humans are now facing. Was it only a year or two ago, up and down this Atlantic coast, everyone lived in fear of shark attacks? Harrowing, yes, with headlines screaming everyday, but now almost quaint in retrospect. The fear of shark attack, ironically, has evolved into an even more ferocious feeding frenzy and the proliferation of a sub-species of supershark we could call Neoconus megalodoni. Where, I wondered, are the headlines warning swimmers to get out of the water now? Sharks and government officials often share two similar traits. They both possess small minds and, having asserted power, often become cold-blooded killers. Would Thomas Jefferson, a patriot and naturalist who wrote, 'I have an interest or affection in every bud that opens, in every breath that blows around me,' who took weather observations on that auspicious day of July 4, 1776, have recognized the extent and danger of the feeding frenzy by our newly-emergent political sharks? Yes, I believe, without a doubt. Then too, I imagine the great naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, would observe the encroaching seawater.
Mother Nature always has the last laugh'observing the slow, relentless inundation of the outdated monuments and marble statuary of Washington DC, whether it takes 50 or 500 years--observing the primal ferocity of the city slowly immersed in muck and corruption, and find some solace and rightness in the judgment of nature and the laws of God. Thus the doomed city will eventually become'once more'what it had been for millennium: a warm, shallow basin for predators and prey, the seawater erasing any vestige of cobblestones, columns and the high ideals of liberty that once existed there.