This is the Pits

a photo of the tar pite with a statue of a mammoth sinkingI am not quite sure what I expected. For years I have wanted to see the Le Brea tar pits. At last I was there, and I was not disappointed. Entombed in the tar is the true Los Angeles underground. And what a story it tells!

Deep within the earth, under L.A., there is oil. Not the oil of our engines, but black thick viscous oil, tar, asphalt. Formed at a time inconceivable in a manner not totally known, it has lain there for eons. And there it would stay, trapped for good if the earth did not shift, did not crack, did not break as it spins through the skies. But crack it does, and did, under L. A. in the days before the angels visited. And through this crack the oil oozed up, as oil will do with water. It welled up and spread out through layers of sand and of gravel, deposits of oceans above.

The land rose out of the sea with forces impelling it upward. It sculpted the base for the city some thousand, or million, years back. The ice came down from the north driving all that was living before it. And like those who discovered it later, they settled in this land so abundant and fair. A climate both temperate and fertile made plant life abundant for many. And they, in their turn, gave the rest the means to continue to live.

There were lions and bears, mammoths and mastodons, antelopes and wolves. Camels and horses flourished alongside sloths and saber tooths. In the air there were eagles. Condors and turkeys abounded. And in the midst of all this abundance the oil oozed up. It collected with water in low spots. Leaves fell, grasses died, covering the thick asphalt surface. During dry spells the water evaporated, the oil hardened over, paving the ground like a freeway.

But in the heat of the sun it turned liquid under its camouflaged surface. A hapless horse grazing might walk there and sink in its surface. Unable to pull free from the muck, it became easy prey to a passing lion or band of wolves. They in their turn became victims and summoned the eagle and condor.  A million and more have been found, their bones stained brown from the tar.

And the oil continues to bubble, filling the air with its stench. But the animals no longer live there disappearing ten thousand years back. No large ones remained or replaced them. What caused them to vanish? The ice age was ending; the climate was changing. Was this what brought an end to the giants? Or was it the hand of another? Humans were on the increase, commencing a technological revolution, one that continues today. What role did they play in this picture?

And what will be found ten thousand, twenty thousand years hence? What will remain of our story? Which ones of us and our creatures will remain preserved by earth’s acts as a part of the American Underground? Time will tell.

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