JJ said, “Where? I don’t see.”
“There and here and there.” He pointed at different sized depressions in the rocks that slanted down towards the river. And then JJ saw the three-toed footprints and Carl was right. They were everywhere.
“What kind of dinosaurs were these?”
Carl cleared his throat. “Funny you should ask. These footprints were made by Eubrontes giganteus about 200 million years ago. They were carnivores, predecessors of the T Rex.”
“How do you know that stuff?”
“I know stuff.”
“I know you know stuff. You’re always telling me the stuff you know.”
“What’s wrong with knowing stuff? You know, there’s a long tradition of amateur naturalists knowing stuff.”
“I’m sure there is. For me, it’s enough that they were here and now we’re here 200 million years later in the same spot. That’s reassuring to me.”
Carl looked at JJ. “Reassuring?”
“Yeah. These footprints mean…I mean, they take the pressure off. It’s no big deal. They were here and now they’re gone. We’re here now and we’ll be gone. No big deal.”
They were quiet a moment. Carl spoke. “That’s either the deepest or most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I think there’s two kinds of things in this world. Those that endure and those that flame out.”
“Which are you?”
JJ thought of a time, years before, when he aimed his car at someone’s driveway but it turned out to be an embankment down to a small stream. He caromed down the hill, somehow missing trees large enough to stop the car, and skidded to a halt with the front wheels in the stream. 2:28AM the dashboard clock said, even when he turned the engine off.
“I used to think I would flame out but now I think I’m going to endure.”
“That’s not always a good thing. Think of the Rolling Stones. Or Dick Cheney.”
“True. But I’m thinking more like an old oak, like that one over there.”
“That’s a maple.”
Some people were coming down the path to the footprints. They were laughing and clowning and shouting conversation. “Fuckin” this and “that’s bullshit”. One of them dropped a cigarette on the rocks and stamped it out. Another yelled, “Wait, wait.” And he reached down to move the cigarette butt into one of the footprint depressions. “That’s what killed the dinosaurs!” Moronic guffaws. They didn’t even notice JJ and Carl.
Carl said, “My point is, there’s a third type of person. Those who should flame out but endure anyway. Don’t be one of them.”
“I’ll try,” said JJ. “I’m trying.”
“I know. Now let’s get outta here before a meteor hits those jackasses.”
“I think we were those jackasses once.”
“Nah,” Carl said. “We would have been quieter.”
“You mean more stoned.”
They walked up the path away from the river, away from the triassic tracks, emerging from the trees into a 21st century parking lot.