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Roundup at Olduvai


A Fictional story

A the helicopter descended through the dawn light near Olduvai Gorge, Eleanor Doting checked her seatbelt. Had her son Vincent arrived safely? He had insisted on parachuting in the day before to have extra time alone with Rocky, his younger brother.

Why did Vincent always have to jump into things? At age ten he campaigned at school for JFK, even though she explained to Vincent a hundred times that his classmates couldn’t vote. At eighteen he left college to join some hippies in California, and a couple of years later he wrote to say he was living at the Hare Krishna temple in Paris.

Paris no less! Within minutes she had booked a flight, and within days they were sitting together on a park bench near the Eiffel Tower, where she’d caught up with him chanting and dancing with his shaven-headed friends.

“Vincent, come home. You can have anything you want. I’ll even give you money for marijuana. I’ll ...”

“But Mom. I never smoked ...”

“Sure you didn’t, deary. Why not come back with me? I have a plane ticket for you.”

“But Mom, you can see me here all you want And I’ll visit you next Christmas, promise.”

“Now Vincent...”

“ ‘Vishnu dasa,’ Mom. I have a new name.”

Vishnu dasa indeed! Well, he had in fact come to visit that Christmas, and every year after that too. She freely admitted that he (still Vincent to her) had a better head than Rocky, who had taken forever to finish grad school, only to join the Peace Corps in Africa, for heaven’s sake. Rocky later returned to New York and made decent money designing software. But the boy never shaped up, always wore old jeans and flannel shirts, kept a long beard, and drank too much. And now, for the love of Pete, he was back in Africa—“looking for his roots”!

So this time she had booked a flight to Dar-es-Salaam instead of Paris, she was chasing Rocky instead of Vincent and she’d had to rent a helicopter to boot. If Harry Doting were alive to see what she was doing with his hard-earned money...

This time she had asked for Vincent’s help, which was also a first. She’d had to, because Rocky now had some crazy idea about staying forever in Africa, and she knew Vincent was a good talker, with a more sober, logical head since joining Hare Krishna. She should know. Didn’t she patiently listen to him “preaching” to her for hours every Christmas?

After resting through the heat of the day, Mrs. Doting mounted something resembling a mule and, with her guide, found Rocky’s camp near the bottom of the gorge early that evening. She heard voices coming from a lamplit tent.

“It’s all guesswork.” Vincent was saying, “They dig up a few pieces, a tiny fraction of the earth’s surface, and they figure they can tell us what happened here millions and billions of years ago.”

“Why not?” Rocky replied. “Geologists call it ‘the stratigraphic column.’ It’s the layers of rock that have been piled up since the very beginning.”

“But look,” said Vincent. “Most scientists accept only the stratigraphic evidence that supports their theories. They ignore findings that indicate modern man existed millions of years ago. Still other scientists say that since ninety percent of the sedimentary layers may have eroded away, the stratigraphic column is a useless tool.”

“But you look,” said Rocky. “Right here on page twenty-eight of my book …”

Mrs. Doting could contain herself no longer. “That’s the trouble with you,” she shouted, bursting through the tent flap. “Ever since you dug that silly old textbook out of the attic, you’ve been saying you could find your roots—your ‘lost ancestors.’ for goodness sake—in some jungle.”

Recovering from the surprise entrance, the boys offered their mother a seat.

“It is our roots,” Rocky insisted, “our origins ...”

“But you can’t know for certain what happened even a thousand years ago,” said Vincent “what to speak of a million or a billion, by digging the ground. It’s a hoax. Your own book says that the science of geology didn’t produce a coherent model of earth’s history until after 1960. So in less than thirty years you and a few geologists have mapped out millions of centuries? I wouldn’t swallow it even if you’d been working ten times that long.”

“It’s that silly book and a few others he’s been reading.” Mrs. Doting chided from her perch on a camp cot.

“Well, in all fairness,” said Vincent tapping his Bhagavad-gita,“I too have a book that talks of remote origins. Here in the Fourth Chapter you can read that the Gita and highly intelligent followers of the Gita have been around for at least 120 million years. Look, here’s how it’s calculated.”

Rocky wouldn’t look. “That’s your religion,” he scoffed. “You just believe whatever your religion tells you. That’s blind faith.”

“And you don’t have blind faith that a handful of men have pieced together a believable history of the earth in just a few years from a few rocks? The difference is that the Gita isn’t guesswork. It’s been handed down unchanged for millions of years. Your holy geologists change every day to account for their so-called evidence. Does the truth change every day, or does it stay the same eternally?”

“Well, I don’t know if Rocky will ever change,” said Mrs. Doting, missing the point by a mile, as usual. “Here he is way down in this dusty pit when he could be making big money back home. And all this ‘roots’ business. Tell me, is life meant for roots or for …”

“Yes, life is meant for finding our roots, Mom,” said Vincent. “But you won’t find anything conclusive by digging in this gorge. Life’s too short and we’re too faulty. We’ve got to discover a perfect source of knowledge.”

“Ah. Perfection,” said Rocky sarcastically.

“But that’s what you’re looking for, what you claim to have found—and in a bunch of scattered digs and a few broken bones. You look for broken bones. I’ll look for a perfect person to give me perfect knowledge from a perfect book.”

Mrs. Doting sighed and let the boys continue, hoping Vincent would win out.

Not that she was taking sides. She just didn’t want Rocky living way out here in the wilds. Whatever Vincent’s Gita said, at least it brought him home for Christmas, and visiting him didn’t require a mule.