The Nautilus

The nautilus is what scientists call a living fossil. It is a very primitive cephalopod, a relation of squids and octopi. A little over a hundred million years ago, most of them evolved beyond the need for shells, but the little nautilus didn’t have to change a whole lot; it’s almost the same way its ancestors looked when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

To think the sea once teemed with such creatures, some in large sizes and with magnificent, long, swordlike shells.. Now all we have are the broken and colorless shells of these early cephalopods. I have to wonder what sort of amazing colors their shells might have been before fossilization left us blank casts of them. The sea really lost some of its splendor when the rest of the cephalopods evolved away from the need for shells. Then again, they’re a remarkable order in their own right and might even replace us one day, seeing how adaptable they’ve been.

Sometimes I wonder about where I was when creatures like these were the dominant life form, if my ideas about reincarnation are correct. Does the soul have a definite age? Was there some spark of being that would some day become me there, in that primordial sea? What was I? A curled ammonite? A gracile orthoceras? Or perhaps I was only a humble little trilobite grazing on the detritus from their meals. Or perhaps, the thought or wavelength or big steaming ball of dukkha that became me hadn’t broken through into existence yet.

I’ve had intuitions- and vague ones- of lives as creatures in the Pleistocene (as an ant and a mastadon) and the Devonian era (as an early sort of bony fish). But I don’t really trust these intuitions because I have no memories I can trace. For now, I consider my disposition in pre-human times a mystery that will probably never be solved.

Still I wonder… Where was I when the seas teemed with colorful shoals of creatures like these? Was I there?


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