16,000 years ago homo sapiens arrive
Bluefish Cave in the Yukon, now there was a place you could call home 24,000 years ago. There’s evidence the cave might have been used an ever more distant 40,000 years back in time, North America’s earliest immigrants crossing over from Siberia consolidated their foothold in this North American cave as others began immigrating south.
Use your imagination to play the homo sapiens game. First, remember earth has grown warmer and colder over these many tens of thousands of years. Plant communities advanced and retreated with climate’s variations, what seems like an uninhabitable cave in the frozen north has in certain periods of time provided an ideal environment for hunting and gathering. The advance of the ancients was not linear, ancestors explored and expand their presence across the continent only to retreat or perish because of incessant rain, persistent heat or cold, or unforeseen drought. Even hunter and gatherers are subject to immutable law of scarcity.
Imagine ingesting magic-mushrooms from atop Nevada’s Tohakum Peak then spending the day marveling southward below at the gleaming blue waters of Pyramid Lake. This sacred body of water is part of the Paiute Nation. If we turned back the clock of time 15,000 years, our ancestors had arrived and roamed this region, our ancient ancestors camped on the shores edge of this lake fishing, hunting and gathering edible and medicinal plants. Pyramid Lake is a mere remnant of Lake Lahontan, this larger lake wasn’t five miles in length, Lake Lahontan stretched out hundreds of miles north to south. From the high ground looking out, this is our ancestor’s homeland, from this vantage point the ancient people that arrived here could behold a lake as big as any in North America.
Winnemucca Lake Rock Art
Dominating the view to the west from Tohakum Peak were the Sierra Nevada’s snow and glaciers. At lower elevations occupying suitable habitat were limber pine, bristlecone pine, fox pine, western white pine, and giant sequoias. Lower still was the sagebrush steppe, and juniper trees. Lower still meadows of grass where could be found camels, giant sloth, tapirs, peccaries, bison, horse, donkey, mammoths and mastodon. Lurking in the shrouded bush were now extinct, giant short-faced bears, dire wolves, saber tooth cats, and the American cheetah. This was time of giant condors and saber tooth salmon. Isolated islands dotted the now vanished lake where white pelicans numbering in the millions fledged their chicks. It was from Lake Lahontan breed grounds that the white pelicans on broad powerful wings and soared to fish and explore the furthest regions of the America’s.
Our ancestors standing erect, hands guided by nature’s largest brain, a burdensome heavy high energy experimental organ, a mind able to fashion arrowheads, built fires, each advance in tool and skill increasing the advantaged probability of our species survival-supremacy was still not more than an untested vanity project. Fire, spears, arrows, and knives expanded the terrain suitable for prevailing over their competitors. This was not the Nevada of modern times, the shores of Lake Lahontan, this complex ecosystem was homeland where early man skillfully learned how to feed upon an uncultivated pristine wilderness, a life sustaining variety of indigenous flora and fauna.
Modern Man and Beast at Pyramid Lake
The human mind isn’t a mere mass of brain cells but is more like a complex interconnected information neural highway, each successive generation’s brain ripening into a more and more complex web of linked cognitive pathways. Linking the minds different hemispheres into a wholistic conscious force progressed, nudged ahead by evolution, over tens of thousands of years, this vast web of nerves, this system increasingly more connected, enabled deeper understanding, higher consciousness, and an ever expanding ability to speak. None of man’s competitors had a comparable vocabulary.
If by some force of time machine magic, we could travel back 15,800 years, standing atop Tohakum Peak we would have been a privileged witness to our ancestor’s earliest demonstration of the ability of man to imagine, to be creative, to think in the abstract, from dreams in our mind to making actual linguistic/symbolic/shambolic patterns in rock. The sentience of the Winnemucca Lake rock art is less about the specific meaning of the symbols etched into stone, but more to do with our ancestors for the first time memorializing the fully realized birth of imagination. Our ancestors were still not more than middle of the food chain pack of tasty morsels; fierce strong jawed, sharp toothed and clawed predators remained the dominant existential force in the world of the hunter and hunted. Like arrow, fire, and speech man’s imagination would be tested, proving over the millennia that intelligence is a formidable adaptive power in the immutable Darwinian law of the survival of the fittest.
Lake Lahontan vanished 10,000 years ago
A journey of a thousand years, then another and another, for much of this time humankind’s advances were incremental, marginal. You know the storyline. Man’s consciousness eventually resulted in formalizing a set of teachable cognitive skills that we know as science. Taking pieces of what we learned from the many disciplines that have been developed empowered homo sapiens to invent, build and then dominate.
Here we are. This is what we have become. Because of our species use of fossil fuels we have arrived at a bend in the road. Our auspicious beginning is memorialized by our ancestors Winnemucca Lake rock art, the other end of this journey is more menacing, as lethal as any beast we have ever faced, it is an unseen phantom stalking the world, we call it by its name- climate emergency. We are racing toward an inflection point, where all of civilization, all of what we hold as irreplaceably sacred is tangled up in the fallibilities of man’s vices and virtues, tossing out the old ways and ever too slowly embracing new ways. The brilliant and clever homo sapiens are struggling to turnback the human experiment of life on earth from a fossil fuel induced collapse of civilization.
Beowawe Geothermal Generating Station
The ancients that inhabited what we now have named Nevada would not have known about the lithium buried in her soils, that a precocious South African would come to North America and build the world’s largest battery manufacturing facility, the paradigm shifting Gigafactory. That here in Nevada’s Great Basin desert there would be experimental geothermal wells drilled, that the power of these six mile deep wells would pull the earth’s molten cores heat up from her depths and will one day demonstrate the potential to provide an inexhaustible source of carbon free electricity, and then this briny water will bring minerals up from deep below and these vital minerals will be laden with more lithium and that emergent technologies, funded by philanthropic men with names such as Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg, will fund teams of scientists to devise a means of separating from the geothermal waters an inexhaustible supply of lithium that can be used to manufacture yet more Gigafactory batteries.
This is not fiction. Winnemucca Lake rock art is an original inflection point, 15,800 years since man arrived here and marked in rock this first moment, when our ancestors etched evidence in stone of mindfulness, to this present moment where humanity’s future now rests upon the fateful scientific engineering success of our cutting through more stone, this time with ever more at stake, with ever more skill, with the entire civilization’s survival quite literally at stake. Every last one of us have skin in this game, this is it, this is for the whole ball of wax, whether we can stay or must go, with the human experiment on the line, we have arrived in of all places back in Nevada searching for our salvation.