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He wondered if the biblical Adam was as overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job as he was. There were simply too many living things to name, too much diversity. Turn over any rock and you’d see a dozen different unnamed crawly things. It was too much for one man. Hell, it was too much for an army of taxonomists. Now there was a word he hadn’t thought of in a long time. He savored the newness of the word—taxonomist—rolling it around in his mouth like a stone. He tried shouting the word to the creatures of this world then laughed out loud. “How many taxonomists does it take to change a light bulb,” he called to the vast emptiness. He couldn’t think of a punchline. What did it matter and who cared what a light buld was anyway?
So much to name. Already today he’d named 55 different things. He was particularly proud of the “Savior” bird. It wasn’t really a bird but it did fly and call “save-your, Save-your” over and over from what passed for a tree on this world. The names he bestowed were primarily for his own amusement. There was no one else to remember or even care. Unless there was a God somewhere listening and chuckling along, all his names would soon be forgotten. But the very act of naming seemed important. It gave him a reason to keep going. He tried not to think too deeply about his situation.
“Save-your. Save-your,” called the bird.
“Save your what?” the man answered. “Your neck, your money, your bacon?” Ha! That was a good one, save your bacon. “You saved my bacon, didn’t you?” he asked the forest. The forest answered with the calls and hoots of a billion nameless creatures. In a small clearing, he danced a dizzy dance until he fell down gasping, laughing and calling out. He rose muttering to himself.
Naming things seemed a particularly human thing to do. It helped him remember he once had a life and a family. He once had friends and shipmates. By naming the plants and animals around him he held on to a bit of that precious humanity even as his sanity eroded bit by bit.
Thoughts of God filled his mind a lot lately. Ever since crawling from the wreckage of the Bounty. Why was he spared? Why couldn’t he have a companion like the biblical Adam? It didn’t seem fair that he was alone. But, here he was. Sometimes he wished he had perished along with the others. Thoughts like those made him sad and he felt the tears well up. He blubbered to the heavens feeling sorry for himself but was soon distracted by a flash of yellow off to his right.
He named the bright yellow lizard-like thing “taxicab” simply for it’s color. Its resemblance to either a terrestrial lizard or a taxicab was minimal at best but that was one of the good thing about names: they didn’t have to make any sense.
“Taxi,” he yelled, “Taxi.” The lizard darted for cover. “You can never get a cab when you need one,” the man said aloud amusing himself all over again.
Food was not a problem on this world. This in itself was a miracle. The odds on being able to digest alien protein was millions to one. The fact that he could eat anything on this world reinforced his feeling of belonging.
He came upon a large blue flower. He named the flower “Madeline” after his daughter. He’d named several beautiful things after his children. Children he had himself named so long ago. He’d have loved to show his long lost Madeline this huge strange flower. Instead he started to sing at the top of his lungs. The simple tune of “Happy Birthday” echoed through the forest startling the wildlife into momentary silence. When he was through he fell to his knees and cried.
What was he doing this for? This endless naming. What was the purpose? Why was he here? There was no more of an answer on this nameless planet than there was back on Earth. It was just that on Earth life held so many more distractions: family, friends, career, mortgage payments. Here life was easy. He had all the time in the world; time to wander, time to remember, time to name things. It didn’t have to make sense.
It can be very lonely out in space - if you're a rocketman. I like the taxicab spiel. This issue comes up in the new movie, Interstellar a lot.
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