Leaving Trace

We are all deathly afraid we don’t exist and/or don’t matter. This fear rides shotgun on all our adventures, a subconscious suspicion that the world, as we experience it, is all just in our heads. I know. You’re thinking this is an exaggeration, but how else to explain the persistent human need to leave our mark wherever we go.

Any outdoor space will be riddled with people’s scrawlings: carved trees, painted rocks, stacked stones, anything that lets people tell themselves they were there, as if only by changing a place can we feel we were in it. Photos only help a little.

Is there another species that will come to a still pond, pick up a stone and throw it in, just to watch it ripple the surface? Is there another that will pull leaves off trees, out of boredom?

I’m not better. I’ve done all these things. I’ve been messy, too.

I suspect our need for the world to see us is born of our perception of time. A long time ago we conquered the challenge of providing our basic needs, leaving us hours for the the self-reflective tendency we think elevates us above other fauna, but actually leads to fear, doubt, and anxiety, if also probably science, art, and philosophy.

The other apex predators seem much more efficient than we are. They sleep. They eat. They shelter themselves. They live in the moment. We struggle to learn to do what they do, like we want to put the monster of self-consciousness back in its box.

A shark does not wonder if it exists. A wolf does not evaluate its life choices, or think about its legacy.

We are not sharks, and we are not wolves. It’s a faulty and convenient comparison, but I think our idea that the evolutionary tree has only one crown is plainly wrong. Take only pictures. Leave only footsteps. In the absence of any coherent long term plan for our lives, we come up with pithy slogans to try to keep from ruining our environment just because we can.

We are the apex species with the fatal flaws of doubt and fear, the price we pay for all the fancy things we use to set ourselves apart. That apartness is the problem probably.