… [some people say … ] It is not a good thing to take the center of the stage and to feel at one’s back the amused little eyes from the bush.
This is from The Firmament of Time by Loren Eiseley (1960):
… The lime in our bones, the salt in our blood were not from the direct hand of the Craftsman. They were, instead, part of our heritage from an ancient and forgotten sea.
Yet for all this flood of change, movement and destruction, there is an enormous stability about the morphological plans which are built into the great phyla — the major divisions of life. They have all, or most of them, survived since the first fossil records. They do not vanish. The species alter, one might say, but the Form, that greater animal which stretches across the millennia, survives. There is a curious comfort in the discovery. In some parts of the world, if one were to go out into the woods, one would find many versions of oneself, with fur and grimaces, surveying one’s activities from behind leaves and thickets. It is almost as though somewhere outside, somewhere beyond the illusions, the several might be one.
… Many years ago I was once, by accident, locked in a museum with which I had some association. In the evening twilight I found myself in a lengthy hall containing nothing but Crustacea of all varieties. I used to think they were a rather limited order of life, but as I walked about impatiently in my search for a guard, the sight began to impress, not to say overawe, me.
The last light of sunset, coming through a window, gilded with red a huge Japanese crab on a pedestal at one end of the room. It was one of the stilt-walkers of the nightmare deeps, with a body the side of a human head carried tiptoe on three-foot legs like fire tongs. In the cases beside him there were crabs built and riveted like Sherman tanks, and there were crabs whose claws had been flattened into plates that clapped over their faces and left them shut up inside with little secrets. There were crabs covered with chitinous thorns that would have made them indigestible; there were crabs drawn out and thin, with delicate elongated pincers like the tools men use to manipulate at a distance in dangerous atomic furnaces.
There were crabs that planted sea growths on their backs and marched about like restless gardens. There were crabs as ragged as waterweed or as smooth as beach pebbles; there were crabs that climbed trees and crabs from beneath the polar ice. But the sea change was on them all. They were one, one great plan that flamed there on its pedestal in the sinister evening light, but they were also many and the touch of Maya, of illusion, lay upon them.
… It is not the individual that matters; it is the Plan and the incredible potentialities within it. The forms within the Form are endless and their emergence into time is endless. I leaned there, gazing at that monster from whom the forms seemed flowing, like the last vertebrate on a world whose sun was dying. It was plain that they wanted the planet and meant to have it. One could feel the massed threat of them in this hall.
“It looks alive, Doctor,” said the guard at my elbow.
[ … ]
… those crabs taught me a lesson really. They reminded me that an order of life is like a diamond of many reflecting surfaces, each with its own pinpoint of light contributing to the total effect. It is a troubling thought, contend some, to be a man and a God-created creature, and at the same time to see animals which mimic our faces in the forest. It is not a good thing to take the center of the stage and to feel at one’s back the amused little eyes from the bush. It is not a good thing, someone maintained to me only recently, that animals should stand so close to man.
It depends, I suppose, on the point of view. On my office wall is a beautiful photograph of a slow loris with round enormous eyes set in the spectral face of a night-haunter. From a great bundle of fur a small hand protrudes to clasp a branch. Only a specialist would see in that body the far-off simulacrum of our own. Sometimes when I am very tired I can think myself into the picture until I am wrapped securely in a warm coat with a fine black stripe down my spine. And my hands would still grasp a stick as they do today.
At such times a great peace settles on me, and with the office door closed, I can sleep as lemurs sleep tonight, huddled high in the great trees of two continents. Let the storms blow through the streets of cities; the root is safe, the many-faced animal of which we are one flashing and evanescent facet will not pass with us. When the last seared hand has flung the last grenade, an older version of that hand will be stroking a clinging youngster hidden in its fur, high up under some autumn moon. I will think of beginning again, I say to myself then, sleepily. I will think of beginning again, in a different way. …