Last winter holidays, a friend from Yale went home to South Carolina with me and, upon opening the closet in my childhood room, found it wallpapered floor-to-ceiling and side-to-side with posters and pictures of horses. There was an awkward silence.
“Umm, Hagan? Why is there a SHRINE to horses in your closet???”
I tried pathetically to explain that my parents wouldn’t let me hang posters on the walls of my bedroom because they thought it looked trashy. She pointed out that didn’t account for the single-minded bestiality of my decorating choice. I eventually had to admit my sordid, fetishized, middle school past.
I used to be a horse girl. You know what I mean; every school had at least one of me. From age 8 to 13, all I wore were jeans, boots, ponytails and those shirts you can buy at truck stops with wild mustangs running across a purple-y Southwestern vista. I had all the Grand Champion plastic stallions and mares and their little plastic foals and fillies. I read all the Saddle Club mini-chapter book mysteries. I put on my tie-dyed helmet every Saturday morning for riding lessons, and I dreamed of the day when I would have a horse of my own to gallop across the Eastern seaboard.
January 2009, that dream is buried beside my career plans to be a pirate and beneath more immediate visions of a completed class schedule, a repaired laptop, a repaired phone, a repaired bed, a repaired toilet, a repaired car, and the magical disappearance of that really icky squash in my fridge that we accidentally left over break. But some things haven’t changed. I can still identify horse breeds the way some people can identify family members; I still want to be Elizabeth Taylor (National Velvet? Am I the only one who ever saw that movie?); and when I heard that the Natural History Museum had a special exhibit on horses while I was in New York for New Year’s, I freaked out and bought a $28 ticket
The exhibit was a let-down. Obviously, the official measurement for horse height — hands — traditionally changes based on the measurement of the reigning English monarch’s fist. I felt the way a Star Wars geek must feel when eating at a Planet Hollywood. Obviously, in the early stages of development, Han Solo was a green-skinned, gilled monster with a girlfriend who was a cross between a guinea pig and a brown bear. Just like obviously all racehorses in America celebrate their birthdays on Jan. 1. Tell me something I didn’t know.
Dejected and dreaming again of wild horses, I wandered listlessly through colonialism in the Hall of African Animals. The labels included “This elephant specimen a gift of His Majesty Edward III and John Jacob Astor” and “This lemur skeleton looks really frightening because it is, in fact, disintegrating. No, we cannot get a new one since the political correctness of this museum has not been analyzed since before integration.” I wound up unwittingly in the hallowed hall of Pleistocene Mammals. It was there that I discovered my new animal fetish:
Woolly Mammoths. The adult woolly mammoth male has a 3-foot penis. The giant hole in the woolly mammoth skull (where the trunk was attached) is the most likely origin for the Cyclops myth. Woolly mammoths existed on remote arctic islands until 3,000 years ago. Helen of Troy could have ridden a woolly mammoth. Woolly Mammoths are like HUGELY COOL.
So after the museum, when I met up with friends at a bar, I naturally slipped into the conversation: “Guys, woolly mammoths are maybe the coolest things ever.” To my surprise, my best friend’s older sister shared my passion. So we spent the next couple of halcyon days on Wikipedia reading up on and admiring artistic renderings of woolly mammoths and their megafauna friends. The Peruvian 8-foot owl, for example. Then, it happened. All at once, our lives changed when we clicked a link about Pleistocene Park.
Pleistocene Park is Jurassic Park — only real, in Siberia, led by private scientists, and with freakish mammals rather than freakish lizards. And y’all, seriously, this is not a Cold War rumor: The Russians are planning to clone a woolly mammoth. They can do this because frozen semen is conveniently immortal. The catch: Siberian lore tells of a curse upon any who unearth a woolly mammoth from the ice, much less revive it. Spielberg, I’m seeing a potential blockbuster hit.
By the way, this is all a metaphor. I think.