I just finished reading the most fabulous book. The guy who wrote it is way younger than me and vastly more distinguished.
And this is a very good thing, given what his book is about and how controversial the topic has been over the past decades in scientific circles.
But not anymore.
His name is Dr. Stephen Brusatte and his book is about – wait for it – how birds are modern dinosaurs!
The book is called “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs,” but it could just as easily be called “mini dinosaurs – they’re everywhere!”
To prove it, I have one in my living room right now, even while I’m typing these words. His name is Pearl, and he is a 19-year-old cockatiel (parrot).
Pearl has a beak, and claws, and – most importantly to earn true modern mini-dinosaur status – feathers. According to Dr. Brusatte, some of the earliest dinos on our planet also had feathers.
Of course, their feathers initially looked more like hairs – think “ostrich” rather than “peacock” and you’ll be on the right track.
But what is most interesting about all this is not even that extinct dinosaurs had feathers or that over time, those early skinny hair-like feathers evolved to the point where they became the aerodynamic masterpieces that inspired the Wright Brothers to make metal ones, attach it to a metal body, add a tail and call it an “airplane.”
What is most interesting is that these early feathers apparently didn’t evolve for the purposes of flight.
Nope. They evolved to help single male dinosaurs who were looking for love attract single lady dinos to make eggs with.
Apparently, lady dinosaurs found feathers on their men quite attractive. The male dinos who had them were able to use their feathers to put on better displays to attract the ladies’ attention. Not surprisingly, thanks to Darwin and natural selection and all that, this quickly produced more dinosaurs with feathers.
And so it went. And so it continues. But there is one thing even more interesting than everything I just shared, if you can believe that.
For such a long time I assumed that turtles – shelled beings – were the real ancient modern dinosaurs. Considering I live with two of them, Malti and Bruce, I was pretty convinced I had surrounded myself with a whole family of cool modern mini-dinosaurs.
But in reality, turtles actually evolved before the dinosaurs. The reason they were able to survive the whole sucks-to-be-you asteroid impact thing that knocked off so many dinosaurs is because they had shells and cold blood. When the big rock hit, turtles did what they still do so well today – they went inside their shells, burying down under the dirt or sand or water or wherever they happened to be at the moment of impact. Then they dialed down their metabolisms so they didn’t need a lot of food and waited it all out. And in this way they were able to survive and eventually repopulate the planet.
In the same way, the existing dinos that were smaller, lighter and had feathers took advantage of an aerial escape route to remove themselves from the center of the asteroid carnage (which I learned took place around what we now call the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico) to someplace safer to regroup, evolve and survive.
For me personally, the compelling moral of this true story is that being born with feathers or a shell is a good thing, especially if something rocky that is six miles wide happens to unexpectedly smash into the planet you are living on.
The truth is, animals have served as wise mentors in my life for as long as I can remember – or basically, 48 years and approximately two months now. But this – this really takes the cake. I just can’t stop thinking and writing and talking about how brave and determined and positive animals are.
I mean, talk about resilience. Talk about flexibility. Talk about conscious, conscientious adaptation. Talk about really tapping into, harnessing, the will to live.
I used to think Pearl was quite fragile just because he is very small. (He is about the size of an iPhone Plus and, at 81 grams at last weigh-in, about half the weight). I would worry and worry about him, thinking all the stress of my constant moving and his many vet visits would one day just do him in.
But then during one vet visit a few years ago, our vet commented that he is a very scrappy little fellow. And I realized she is right! He is so resilient. He has gone through some really serious physical challenges in life. His nest mates were awful bullies, nipping off the tip of his left wing and the ends of three of his five tiny toes when he was just an itty bitty chick.
So he has grown up with one working wing and just five claws instead of the eight he was supposed to have. Worse, for years on end, that battered left wing tip bled at the drop of a hat. He would bang it when he tried to fly and it would bleed and I would rush him to the vet over and over again for a patch-up. Finally, he had a scary surgery to prevent further bleeding which, thankfully, worked.
But none of this has ever dampened his spirit or his enthusiasm for life – not one little bit. Quite the opposite. Every day is a great day to wake up when you are Pearl. Every morning when he sees himself in the mirror he sings and chirps and shrieks with enthusiasm.
And – so interesting – he is a flocking species, which – amazingly – also matches how most of the ancient dinosaurs lived. To hear Dr. Brusatte tell it, even mighty T. Rex and ginormous Tricerotops lived in groups. It’s apparently safer that way whether you are a palm-sized parrot or a school bus-sized dinosaur.
Pearl’s modern flock might look a bit unorthodox, given that none of the four of us are even the same species. But it works. And every single day, he inspires me to wear my heartache and my hope right out on my sleeve, waking up fully into whatever today may hold, knowing it may be beautiful or it may be horrible, but whatever it is, we will experience it together.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a particular favorite animal or human who inspires you to give life your all even when it all feels so very, very tough? I’d love to hear about your inspiration!