Everybody likes Mr. Bones. And really, how could you not love a guy who walks around operating a giant and seemingly anatomically correct dinosaur suit, never missing an opportunity to pretend he's eating a kid's head?
Though Mr. Bones was perhaps the most flamboyant, there were no shortage of characters at Dinosaur Discovery Day Saturday at Dinosaur Ridge -- the kind of eccentric folks who donate their time to geeking out on the stuff that fascinates them for the benefit of little kids, who politely pretend to be listening.
To be fair, though, most of the Girl Scouts -- the organization that sponsored the event -- seemed to be informed and on their game as far as answering questions from the adults; evidently, the event was an opportunity for them to get merit badges. My 7-year-old son Avry, on the other hand, was confident enough in his own enlightenment: "I already knew that," he informed one woman who was imparting facts about rocks. "We learned about rocks last year."
He was far more interested in panning for gold, which did not, interestingly, involve gold, but more accurately was panning for minerals like turquoise, rose quartz and amethyst. While he swirled sand around in search of the tiny multicolored mineral specks, I chatted with David Abbott, the mining geologist running the booth, about his shirt, which was emblazoned with the following rock joke: "Geologists are gneiss, tuff and a little wacke." Of the final mineral, "It's a type of dirty sandstone," he explained.
From there, he somehow got off on a tangent about the minerals you can find in paper: "Paper is like a hamburger," he waxed. "Trees are the meat, and clay is the bun. That's why if you try to light a glossy like National Geographic on fire, it won't burn."
About 20 feet away, dendrochronologist Richard Kerr was demonstrating how you can track the progression of forest fires in an area using cross-sections of tree trunks (which, if you're wondering, is what dendrochronologists study). "You can see here there's a fire return period of about 11 years, right up until around the 1950s," he said, pointing to a dark ring in the wood. Forest fires consume undergrowth first, meaning once it's burned off, the fire doesn't return until the undergrowth returns, a phenomenon called fire mosaic. If fire is not allowed to burn off undergrowth -- which it is often has not been since the advent of forest fire-fighting -- the danger of fire is constantly imminent. "Next time it burns," he said, "there'll be no stopping it."
Among the solutions to that problem are simple deterrents like stringent undergrowth control, an easy fix Kerr can't understand why people don't use. "Your house could burn down just because you didn't mow the grass," he lamented, and concluded with an impassioned plea to me, the reporter: You've got to get the word out to people in the mountains."
Mountain folk, take note.
In a completely different vein, the Legendary Ladies were in the booth over near the dinosaur sculptures, getting the word out about the strong, influential women of Colorado's past -- Joyce Nelson, for example, was decked out as Dr. Susan Anderson, a "pack of dynamite" with a serious reputation in Frasier, CO, back in the day for saving the lives of pneumonia patients, as well as coming up with practical treatments for tuberculosis, which Anderson had herself.
"You kind of get hooked on this kind of history," said Nelson, who got involved with the Ladies after seeing them perform at Buffalo Bill Days in Golden in 1996. "The more you learn, the more you get suckered into it."
As for Mr. Bones, also known as Tim Seeber, the self-described "paleopuppeteer" probably knows a thing or two about getting suckered into learning -- he's got his hands in about a million educational pies. The 35-lb dinosaur puppet, which he built himself, was "an egression from a dragon costume" that he'd been building for the Renaissance Fair -- an organization he got involved in 20 years ago when he saw an ad for it in Westword, he said. Aside from being a giant dinosaur, the holder of dual degrees in natural history and art education dabbles in substitute teaching and theatrical sets, and occasionally builds skating rinks.
"I have other work to supplement the starving artist thing," he said.
Whatever the case, it's certain he impressed at least one hard-to-impress young gentleman. "Oh, that guy's hilarious," said Avry on the ride home, rhetorically adding: "Who would even wear that thing?"