Some days ago I was riding hard along the snow-covered back roads of my youth, heading home, knowing that a couple of hours of moving snow with my tractor and blade awaited me.
Ferlin Husky was on the car radio, singing a country waltz, something about the wings of a dove. Wouldn’t have been my choice but it felt just right, a song I first heard more than a half century ago, probably in my mother’s warm, comfortable kitchen, a plastic AM radio on a shelf above the sink, next to the salt and pepper shakers.
Soft snow rose in plumes behind me as I traveled, like dust in summer, settling in the ditches, and all I could think of was a test tube full of spit I’d sent to some good folks out in Utah. There are companies that, for a fee, gladly accept your spit and, in return will tell you of your ancestry, your heritage, those who came before.
Here’s the thing. I already knew I was German and Swedish but I was hoping for something a little more interesting. Alas, no.
My past is absolutely unremarkable and I’m as white as they come. For ninety bucks I found out that I’m boring and bland, and likely so are my ancestors. No wonder I’ve spent my life as a “C” student, eventually working my way up to middle management. And to make matters worse I’ve no children, no grandchildren, only cats: so the life of my DNA in America is coming to an end. There is no need to feel sad, however, as entire civilizations have met the same fate.
Beneath a Guatemalan jungle scientists recently discovered a number of lost Mayan cities, ancient ruins of multiple interconnected towns and villages, places that housed many more millions than previously estimated, people who were as sophisticated as any culture on earth and 1,200 years later they are gone. Where beautiful brown people lived, loved, and raised families, there is now dense, almost impenetrable jungle.
Oddly, over the centuries there were people who knew about the ancient Mayan civilization but they weren’t scientists, and they kept quiet about what they knew. Here’s the part I love: they were grave robbers and looters. It goes to something I’ve long thought: if you want to really know what’s happening on earth go find a crook, offer him a cigarette, begin asking questions, and take notes.
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Later, I’m on my tractor pushing snow, fingertips freezing, and that damned Ferlin Husky song won’t leave my head. Better than another tune I heard a week or so ago and couldn’t shake, Burl Ives singing “A Little Bitty Tear.” My gosh, where are Mozart or Springsteen when you need them?
A few more inches of snow overnight and I’m back at it, Elmer Fudd cap tied beneath my chin, breath icing up a few inches from my face and before I put the tractor away and turn for home I’m thinking about people who lived long ago, and about what future humans will find 1,200 years from now. Will they know we were here, that we too lived and loved? My guess is a handful will wish to know about us but most won’t care, and likely won’t be bothered to spit in to glass test tubes, and that’s as it should be.
• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackon County.