Monday, August 8, 2011

Loren Eiseley: from The Immense Journey

One of Loren Eiseley's recurring themes is that evolution has not stopped with us. Some evolutionists appear to resemble creationists in this: they have replaced the dictum that God has created us as the pinnacle of Its creation with Evolution has brought us forward as Its supreme achievement. The following is a quotation from the essay "The Snout" in The Immense Journey. The Snout is Eiseley's nickname for the creature who lived in water but was also able to travel for a short distance on land to reach another pond.

We teach the past, we see farther backward into time than any race before us, but we stop at the present, or, at best, we project far into the future idealized versions of ourselves. All that long way behind us we see, perhaps inevitably, through human eyes alone. We see ourselves as the culmination and the end, and if we do indeed consider our passing, we think that sunlight will go with us and the earth be dark. We are the end. For us continents rose and fell, for us the waters and the air were mastered, for us the great living web has pulsated an grown more intricate.

To deny this, a man once told me, is to deny God. This puzzled me. I went back along the pathway to the marsh. I went, not in the past, not by the bones of dead things, not down the lost roadway of the Snout. I went instead in daylight, in the Now, to see if the door was still there, and to see what things passed through.

I found that the same experiments were brewing, that up out of that ancient well, fins were still scrambling toward the sunlight. They were small things, and which of them presaged the future I could not say. I saw only the they were many and that they had solved the oxygen death in many marvelous ways, not always ours.

I found that there were modern fishes who breathed air, not through a lung but through their stomachs or through strange chambers where their gills should be, or breathing as the Snout once breathed. I found that some crawled in the fields at nightfall pursuing insects, or slept on the grass by pond sides and who drowned, if kept under water, as men themselves might drown.

. . . . . . .

Perpetually, now, we search and bicker and disagree. The eternal form eludes us -- the shape we conceive as ours. Perhaps the old road through the marsh should tell us. We are one of many appearances of the thing called Life; we are not its perfect image, for it has no image except Life, and life is multitudinous and emergent in the stream of time

I remember reading once a commentary on Eiseley in which he was characterized as morose, depressing, pessimistic, etc. I have read much in Eiseley and disagree. The above quotation suggests, instead, an optimistic view of life.


  1. I just read Eiseley's The immense journey and then found your blog spot. I agree, this writing if not pessimistic, it's humbling. Perhaps for an egotistical person it is depressing because it displays that life does not revolve around human beings. To me, when he is describing how it must have been for the snout, it reminded me of a far away dream full of struggle, survival and curiosity and a hint of intelligence that if I don't get up and glide along with the night dew that I will die when that bright heat comes back. this is indeed stranger than fiction.

    1. MousePants.

      Eiseley is a great writer. I think I've read almost everything he has written for the general public. This is the first book I read by him, and I then spent decades reading as many of his books as I could find.

      I agree: this would be a depressing book for those who believe the human race is either the Special Creation of a deity or the culmination of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. We are just another stage on the road that probably never ends. The Road goes on and on. . .

      I just finished watching a four DVD set titled Life in Our Universe, and yes, life is strange.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.