It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened. Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could ‘a’ laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn’t say nothing against it, because I’ve seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done.

—Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Were we made, or did we just happen? Huckleberry Finn and his traveling companion Jim drew upon the evidence they saw in the sky above them, and the world around them, arriving at a mutual conclusion on the nature of the universe…. More…

In 1807, Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and amateur paleontologist, sent William Clark to dig for fossils at a place in Kentucky called Big Bone Lick. Exactly 200 years later I’m stopping to see the fossils at Big Bone Lick, which is now a state park commemorating the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology.

It’s a hot, white-sky day and the park is full of picnickers, fishermen, and campers. There used to be mineral springs here and, before they dried up, Big Bone Lick was a destination for those seeking their medicinal value. Today, the parking lot is full of minivans. A dad is angry because someone spilled soda in the back seat; another one yells at everyone to stop fooling around and get back inside the car already.

The park’s small visitor center is lined with fossils of the animals that roamed the area during the last Ice Age; behind… More…