THE ETERNAL TRAIL by Martin Lockley


A Tracker Looks at Evolution
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Lockley (Tracking Dinosaurs, not reviewed) takes an informed, latitudinarian look at fossil footprints, spoor, and other traces left by passing animals, including humans, to see what they can tell us about everything from science to spirituality. Tracks are everywhere and always have been, from the exquisite traceries of subatomic particles to Voyager landing on Mars. Lockley reads tracks as others read lottery tickets: that is, with an eye out for latent, talismanic portents. He nods frequently in the direction of intuition and the inherent mysticism in his work and is tickled when he can make a sensible stab at how a creature behaved from its footprint. Although he covers animals back to the trilobites, he has a particular fascination with the dinosaur freeways, those miles-long paths where the terrible lizards strode side by side, perhaps discussing roadkill or lepidopterology, but a teeming, gregarious fellowship however you look at it. Tracks may be the physical manifestation of a more philosophical walkabout, a way to read the organism “soul to skin,” but Lockley is ever aware that they are also dents in the ground that say much about physiological and morphological characteristics, about the polarity of orientation and manifold coupled cycles (like toes getting shorter as limbs get longer), about what the thing looked like. Worked into the narrative are the high priests of tracking (Edward Hitchcock, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dolf Seilacher) and those beautiful moments when orthodoxy is subverted, as well as less beautiful moments, such as the folly of the creation/evolution debate with its “narrow institutionalized and political perspectives.” And Lockley subtly delineates little teleological moments, as in the “coherent reiteration of morphogenetic patterns throughout the evolutionary cycles of entire groups,” in which “dozens of morphological pathways swirl and intertwine within and between groups.” He closes, stunningly, on an evil trace—landmines, a legacy of our shattered communion with the earth. An adroit chronology of the art of tracking and the revelations that trail in its wake. (illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7382-0165-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Perseus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999