"New Year's Eve" from Part I: Beginnings
There is always excitement on the last day of the year. A little exhaustion too. December is a busy, challenging, happy, sad and frustrating month. New Year’s Eve brings a moment to look back on the events of the year and to look ahead. To hope for better things in the uncharted future. A lot has been going on through the evening. The hubbub has risen to that frenetic key that parties reach at the climax of their numbers and sociability. The continents have settled down a bit and seem to be more or less staying in place. The last Ice Age ended in the early hours of the morning, about 11 million years ago. Through the day there have been floods and droughts, as there always are. Lakes have appeared and disappeared and reappeared again. As of dinner time, the mammoths and camels, the saber cats and dire wolves, are still lively members of the party. They won’t die off until literally the last minute (about 8000 years). Yesterday there was a big pile-up in Los Angeles at Wilshire and La Brea. Typical L.A., right? It seems as if all of that wildlife that teemed in the forest, swamps and grasslands for eons, all got it into their scaly, wooly, feathery heads to migrate to the movie capital of the world. They learned what many a young starlet and movie mogul has learned since. It’s not always as good as it looks. Only for them it was much worse. Hollywood is only a twinkle in time, but this black hole lasted for thousands of years. In those times, (it would be yesterday), a part of Wilshire Boulevard was the site of springs of petroleum and gas that bubbled together to the surface from deep in the rocks. As the fluid spread, it formed small ponds of tar. Perhaps the creatures were deceived by the film of water that covers the pool in an otherwise welcome landscape of trees and a grassy plain between the hills. Over time, unsuspecting, they come, caught in a lasting emulsion like human images in a photograph. Toads, beetles, owls. Wild horses, camels, mammoths, bison, wolves—all covered in a dark, sticky film of tar where now the asphalt of our modern roads is densely covered with automobiles and the 3:00 to 5:00 sensation that the tar has seized a new generation of hominid commuters eventually turns out to be an illusion.
Five minutes to midnight and the chatter quiets. People begin to gather for the toast, as our own family enters the scene. Homo sapien sapien—oh wise wise human!
One minute to midnight. This is a solemn moment. Human history is about to begin. Someone announces the news to the party and calls for the champagne to be brought. In the time it took to utter those words, half a millennium has passed. People fall silent as the champagne glasses are distributed. Another millennium goes by. Half a minute later a cork is popped and a murmur of anticipation ripples through the crowd. Egypt is rising. Sumeria. The toasts begin. “To the Earth!” someone says. “To God,” says another. “To the goddess!” a woman amends. “To all the creatures and all our relations!” “To the beauty of the Earth, long may she live!” is chorused. Some misgivings are heard. All this, as civilizations rise and fall, cities blinking in and out like stars. Small sounds becoming rhythmic, singing, music, symphonies, synthesizers, blaring electronic amplifiers, a diverse cacophony tangled round the world in a thick mesh of sound, for the last second has come and the glasses are raised, poised to drink in the new.
Twelve million undreamt of years of jostling landscapes and unimaginable creations.
In the time it takes to lift glasses to lips, the North and South will count their dead, trains will cross the land, planes will lift into the sky, telephones and television will appear. Two world wars will be fought and the hydrogen bomb will burst into the sky like a lethal flower. Millions of years of our ancient past will be discovered, the Earth charted, the DNA structure unraveled, miracle cures beyond number will be found. Rockets are taking off into the heavens, men are walking on the moon, people are talking round the world, sending a billion instant messages, images, songs, threats, sports scores, stock quotes… Ah! Here’s looking at you…