Have you been working all week in a tedious job with little mental stimulation? Do you want to contemplate the way human cultures interact with nature, and the concept of deep time? Do you want to spend a good portion of the day fiddling around at the big Bass Pro Shop in Springfield?
This is what you’ll need:
*A good book or two with a focus on Cenozoic (that’s the period after the Age of Dinosaurs) life forms. I recommend Alan Turner’s National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals, or if you’re a total biology n00b, Prehistoric Zoobooks is good.
* Free time
* Transport to Bass Pro.
First, read your books. Become well acquainted with the recently extinct. If someone says “Irish elk” I want you to be able to rattle off “You know, technically the Megaloceros was not an elk, and it also had a much wider distribution beyond Ireland.” without missing a beat. Once you have ostracized all your friends with giant sloth factoids, you are ready.
Now for fun! Head off to Bass Pro. Your job is simple: walk around and imagine how everything you see would be different if humans arrived earlier before they did. It could be anywhere from 10,000 years earlier, or 10 million. Go nuts.
The mounted animals that decorate the place are good for starters. When you see a mounted cougar, imagine an American Cheetah or American Cave Lion in its place. Think a stuffed whitetail is impressive? Imagine a deer with a pair 12 feet across. That’s the aforementioned Megaloceros.
Now move on to the merchandise. An Ice Age Bass Pro would have DVDs of “Monster Mammoths!” and “Woolly Rhino Fever!” There’d be Ted Nugent cookbooks that tell you 500 things you can do with glyptodont. You could buy your kids a Teddy Short-Faced Bear.
See a logo that’s an animal silhouette? Replace it with a prehistoric equivalent. Go to that little art gallery with all the wildlife prints? Ditto. Do so with everything you see. Entelodont whistles! Sivatherium musk! Electronic Andrewsarchus repellent!
I assure you, once you get going you won’t be able to stop. How would fairy tales be different if we didn’t just have Big Bad Wolves, but Dire Wolves? Would cowboys ride giant killer pigs at rodeos? What sort of political and social fracases would we have been embroiled in if we coexisted with Australopithecines? What would the Looney Tunes cast have looked like? Football mascots? Faux fur coats? Dairy farms? Circuses?*
Soon you realize just how short a time it was when the world was completely alien to modern humans. If all goes well you will feel humbled by the ingenuity of evolution and the vastness of time. Your mind is now blown. Go upstairs and help yourself to some overpriced seafood- you deserve it.
*The obvious answer to all of these, of course, is “They’d be different because they wouldn’t exist, since all these messed up mammalian overlords would surely eat us all.” This is true, but don’t dwell on it too much, since it defeats the purpose of imaging a Prehistoric Bass Pro.