Some TMNT stuff was always meant for grownups.
[Charles Darwin's final book was entitled The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, a bestseller when it came out in 1881.]
[It was one of the first books to show the physical influence a biological organism had on its environment and proved how something so small and seemingly inconsequential could affect the world in a big way.]
[Earthworms break up and mix plant debris with soil, enriching it, churning it upwards, like blenders, like billions of tiny blenders.]
[Darwin was obsessed with worms and spent the last years of his old age researching their activity in relation to the burial and preservation of archaeological ruins...]
[My name's Donatello and, yeah, these are the sort of things that I like to think about. It's the way I am. It's the way I've always been.]
[Let me tell you a story...]
"Although I was aware that it was the centennial of the publication of Darwin's book on worms, I didn't give it much thought at the time. I was twelve years old and obsessed with my own interest -- the history of New York..."
["For the island later to be named Manhattan was wild and relatively untouched. Wolves and cougars were the predominant prey species at the time, while eagles, ospreys and various hawks ruled its skies.]
["Native inhabitants densely populated its wilderness, hunting, fishing, walking its shores, harvesting shellfish, living alternately in peace and at war with their neighbors...]
["In April 1524 a European ship --the Dauphine- sailed into what is now New York Harbor seeking to find a passage to the Orient.]
["The Dauphine was a French ship of discovery captained by an Italian explorer, Giovanni da Verrazano, a once famous corsair who became the first European to both sight New York and meet is native inhabitants.]
["In Verrazano's own words, excerpted from a letter to France I, King of France:]
[" 'In their little boats made out of a single tree, they crossed to greet us joyfully, the people uttering loud cries of wonderment, dressed in bird's feathers of various color. Suddenly a violent wind blew from the sea and we were forced to return to the ship, but not before we tried to take a boy and a young woman with us.]
[" 'The woman was very beautiful and tall but it was impossible to take her to the sea because of the loud cries she uttered. We decided to leave her behind and took only the boy. We then sailed away, towards the east.' "]
"Sounds like a real nice guy."
["Two years later, in 1526, a second European ship 'discovered' New York. This one flew the flag of King Charles of Spain and was sailed by Esteban Gomez, a Portuguese of African ancestry. Gomez did not make landfall as it was winter and the harbor clogged with ice floes...]
["Eighty-three years later...]
["...In 1609, came the Half Moon, a ship contracted by the Dutch East India Company looking for a faster all-water route to China and commanded by an Englishman, Henry Hudson.]
["Hudson sailed his small ship up the river which today bears his name but turned around once he had realized that it was a simple river and not an inland passageway to the west.]
["Hudson made contact with local Indians and was amazed at their abundance of foods, skins and furs which the Indians were willing to trade for trinkets.]
["Hudson claimed the land for the Dutch, opening the way for the settlers who followed... But it was the prospect of a highly profitable fur trade that prompted the company's businessmen to return to this new land...]
Don "You're welcome, Sensei. I'm psyched, this is the best book I've ever read! I can't believe someone had thrown it away into the sewers!"
Don "And it's wicked old, too..."
Mike "Wouldn't it be cool to be an explorer, Don?"
Mike "Discovering new places, being in a ship, or even in a spaceship...!"
Don "That's an interesting thought. The Half Moon is sort of the Apollo 11 of its time..."
Raph "Explore this."
Don "Hey... What's that?"
Leonardo "A map."
Don "I didn't know it was in there."
Splinter "I am unsure of the wisdom of this. This map is old. Thanks change. The map may no longer be accurate."
Splinter "No, I think not."
Don "But Master, we could use a modern map as well. We could compare the two as we go..."
Mike "Aw, you never let us go anywhere, Master...!"
Don "What about the spring, Master? You know we need a good source of water. This is pragmatic. It makes sense to go."
Raph "And we can to go alone, Master. We never get to go anywhere alone. I think we're old enough to handle ourselves... We're not babies anymore."
Splinter "You certainly are no longer babies, Raphael."
Splinter "Very well then."
[I remember it taking us several hours to pack...]
Leo "I'll make sure we're careful, Master."
[... While Master Splinter did his best to appear upbeat and supportive. It must have been hard for him... It was the first night we would spend away from him.]
[I plotted a course using the old map, while Mike compared the route to a new map of the sewers.]
Don "Turn right up ahead and go straight for a hundred yards?"
Mike "No prob."
[Raph and Leo took up the rear, Leo trying to move as silently as possible, Raph splashing about trying to annoy Leo.]
Don "Another right?"
[For the first part of our journey I remember wondering whether or not Master Splinter had followed us...]
[I imagined he would have... For a while at least, making sure we were all right.]
[Poor Master Splinter...]
[We passed all the usual tunnels, the networks of pipes and columns that provided the city with steam, gas, electricity and water, drained its flood waters and sewage, the web of telephone and cable lines, the subways...]
Raph "Are we there yet?"
Don "Hmmm. That's strange..."
Don "...There's a dead end."
Don "Mike, there a dead end on your map, too?"
Mike "Um, er, no?"
Don "There probably would be... If you looked at the map right-side-up!"
Don "You dope! Give me that! I'm taking charge of the new map!"
[Frankly, I was surprised that it had taken Leo that long to work his way into a position of control... Although I was glad that he had.]
[Over the next few hours each step carried us further back in time.]
[We discovered a chamber filled with old subway cars, like an elephant graveyard...]
Raph "We should tag 'em."
[...Climbed down granite slabs that had once formed the walls of one of the city's old aquaducts...]
Mike "♫♫...Aquaduct, my friend, don't you start away uneasy...♫♫"
[...Wound our way through a spiral passageway that wasn't noted on either map...]
Raph "A secret passageway?"
Mike "Maybe it was a part of the Underground Railroad, maybe people helped ex-slaves find their way to freedom through here..."
[...And eventually arrived at what remained of the ruins of the island's original Dutch settlement.]
Leo "New Amsterdam?"
[We decided to camp there for the night.]
Don " "...While the fate of those early explorers left much to be desired."
Don " "Henry Hudson, for example, later attempt a polar passage exploration, this time working for the English. Failing time and again, and encountering worsening weather and rapidly diminishing food supplies, Hudson's crew mutinied..."
["...And placed Hudson and his young son in a small boat and set them adrift near Newfoundland...]
["...Never to be seen again."]
"That's harsh, dude."
["Verazzano, on the other hand, after making landfall on a Caribbean island, met with an even more gruesome fate-- As dinner for the island's cannibalistic natives. One account claims that he was roasted a--"]
"Hey! I'm trying to eat here...!"
Don "Sorry. "The natives, in turn, were slaughtered to extinction by subsequent waves of European settlers." How very Darwinian."
Mike "How very geekian."
[Although he didn't say anything --and never has-- I watched as Raphael picked up an arrowhead from out of the gravel near our campfire, in one of those moments of weird serendipity whose operating equation or underlying principle has yet to be discovered.]
[The next day we came to the dinosaur tracks, exactly where the map indicated they'd be.]
Leo "How cool is this?"
Don "Three distinct types of tracks. anyone know what species they are?"
Mike "I do."
Mike "Big ones. Dead ones. Big dead ones."
Mike "At least I hope they're dead..."
Leo "I think I can save us some time, might be a way to take a shortcut here..."
Mike "Don't look natural..."
Don "I agree. The walls look carved-- The edges curve around but are still sharp, not soft and smooth like you'd get with water erosion. It looks excavated."
Mike "Excavated? But... But by what? Dinosaurs?"
Raph "Yer mom."
Leo "Don't spook yourself, Mikey."
Mike "Um, now can I spook myself?"
Raph "I assume this place ain't on the map."
Leo "Ah... No."
Raph "Nice shortcut."
Don "What strange architecture... Classic columns and arches but no distinctive or at least recognizable style. These might be the ruins of an as-yet undiscovered past empire... One that may have existed in North America before the Olmec of Latin America."
Mike "Or else some hokey movie set."
Don "And look at the precision. I bet this city was carved directly out of the surrounding rock! What could they have used for tools?"
Mike "He's geeking out again."
Leo "The spring?"
Don "I'd say so. It corresponds to where it's indicated on the map. Your shortcut worked after all, Leo."
Mike "Last one in's a rotten egg!"
Leo "Coming in, Don?"
Don "Yeah, in a little while..."
Don "...I just want to run some pH tests and do an analysis of the spring, check on protozoa and bacteria, see if it'll be a good source of drinking water--"
[Even then I was such an uber-geek... With my homemade chemistry set that I used to carry around in an old cigar box...]
Don "--Just wanna see what's in it."
Raph "Hey, there's fishes in here..."
[I think back on the fun I used to miss out on...]
Raph "...Little white fishes..."
[My brothers discovered that the spring held more advanced forms of life than the simple ones I was testing for--]
Leo "Hey, check this out. Looks sort of like a lobster trap..."
Raph "Now who the hell would be trapping blind albino turtles in this forgotten whacked-out place?"
Don "Um, I think I can hazard a guess..."
Raph "I don't like the look of these jokers."
Mike "I think I'm getting the subterranean homesick blues..."
Leo "Neither do I... Even if they do look a bit sickly."
Leo "Weapons at the ready, brothers."
Don "Leo? I think I'm going to sit this one out for a while, finish up with these tests first..."
Don "I think I'm on to something..."
[I always think I'm on to something.]
Mike or Raph "Gross. We got worms."
Leo "That trap I found... These guys... They eat turtles."
Mike "Maybe they want to eat us."
Raph "Like those cannibals ate Verazzano?"
Raph "Ain't gonna happen!"
[Worms. Darwin. Evolution.]
Mike "Hey, leggo..!"
Mike "Gee, who said these dudes looked sickly?"
[Survival of the fittest.]
[The struggle for existence.]
[The history of life on Earth is the struggle for existence in the midst of scarce resources...]
Raph "Ha! Potty mouth. I'm telling Master Splinter."
[...And a changing environment.]
Leo "Okay, that does it!"
[...The subtext of history is the struggle for existence.]
Leo "I'm serious..."
Leo "...No more fooling around!"
[Not that I knew that then.]
Raph "Gonna join the party sometime, Donnie!"
Don "I'm busy. I'm hurrying. If you need me, tell me."
Don "Hey, where's..."
Don "Ah, that must be him..."
Don "Crap, Mikey! Your splashing just ruined this analysis!"
Mike "Take a suck pill, bro. I got some deworming to do!"
Don "You don't understand, this is important, I think I--ah, forget it!"
Raph "These guys came on strong... But they ain't much on stamina..!"
Don "Yeah and I think I know why..."
Leo "I think you're right, Raph. We definitely have them on the ropes... We just have to turn up the heat a bit."
Mike "One can of whup-ass coming up!"
[A changing environment.]
Don "That's it, I've got it! The water's changed!"
Don "Bros, listen to me, there's a reason why these guys look sickly, why they're low on stamina, why they were trying to eat us."
Don "--Hey, isn't anyone listening to me?"
Don "You worm guys probably don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?"
Don "But hopefully you can understand the tone of my voice..."
Don "...And my actions."
Don "These are water filters. You have to draw the water through these before you can drink it..."
Don "See? Like this... Through the filter, then you can drink it. Simple."
[Simple, so simple, too simple. What was I thinking?]
[The naiveté of youth.]
Mike or Raph "Gee, Donnie, you really think they're gonna use those things, you sure they're not just gonna play with them?"
Don "Yeah, they'll be fine. We can come back and check on them in a couple of months."
[Of course, we never did.]
[And if we did, what would we have found?]
[That they had survived, that their health had improved, that it worsened? For all I know their physiology may have required lead and cadmium as nutrients. Maybe their water source had never changed. Maybe it had but they hadn't changed with it.]
[Maybe their time was up. Maybe it's just beginning. Dusk, dawn, which follows which?]
[Geek or not, I was only twelve years old at the time, what could I possibly have known?]
[And we have to change with them.]
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