HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 30, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


There's nothing like having two small boys in your house to teach you why many citizens neglect their responsibility to stay informed. My grandsons have been visiting me over the past week. Having them here is delightful. But, I must confess that since they came my attention to public affairs and other matters of the mind has declined by, at least, 75%.

I have, however learned more about dinosaurs than I ever knew before. My older grandson Jack, who is now four years old, told me as soon as he arrived that he is obsessed with them. I knew that already, but just how obsessed I wasn't fully aware. Jack has a book which lists the names and habits of 350 dinosaurs. I hadn't known there were so many.

We went out onto the sidewalk to measure how far a Brachiosaurus would stretch out if he were to come waddling up Liberty Street. He would have extended all the way across our lot, although, as Jack quickly reminded me, there weren't any lots around, or any people either, when Brachiosaurus was roaming the earth. That, said Jack, was very fortunate, so far as people are concerned.

According to paleontologists, dinosaurs were the principal power creatures on earth for about 150 million years. I asked Jack how long a 150 million years were and he said, "A very long time." I don't guess there's any doubt about that. Jack told me that he is thinking of becoming a paleontologist. He would like to find out what color the dinosaurs were. He says you can't tell that from the bones alone.

Jack is very interested in which dinosaur species has the longest name. We inscribed a list in a little notebook I made for him and counted the words in the names that went all the way across the page. I think the longest we have found is Pachycephalosaurus, which as you can readily tell has eighteen letters. Jack, by the way, is meticulous about pronunciation and corrects me immediately if I stumble over the names of any of these creatures.

I've been trying to figure out what the significance of the dinosaurs were. They roamed around for a long time, and ate each other to a sanguinary degree. Tyrannosaurus Rex is said to have been able to rip out a five hundred pound chunk of meat from an opponent with a single bite. But what does all that mean? I ask myself. Jack is not troubled in the least by such questions. He's just obsessed and that's all there is to it.

Four is a wonderful age.

Next week, perhaps, after Jack has gone home, I'll be thinking of other things.


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