The Ancestor’s trail

The mother of all birthdays!

I forgot my mother’s birthday once. Never again. I found out the hard way that it is important to make time for special anniversaries. But there is one birthday that we’ve all been guilty of forgetting; and it’s not for the first time. In fact, to our shame, we have never remembered this event; and yet it is surely the single most important birthday on earth. But who can this highly neglected celebrity be? Well, for a start, it’s not one person. We are talking here about everyone’s birthday; our collective and original birthday ~ the birth of life itself. Indeed, as far as we know, life on earth is the biggest success story ever enacted anywhere, and seeing as right now you remain very much part of this success story, you are cordially invited to join us in the very first ‘mother of all birthdays’ celebration.

So exactly how belated would such a global happy birthday message have to be? Well, it couldn't be much worse really, seeing as we are around 3,700,000,000 years too late. This made it rather difficult choosing a birthday date! We know very roughly when it happened (give or take a few hundred million years) but choosing a day of the year was anybody’s guess. We decided, seeing as it was a long, long, long time ago, to make our date as close as possible to our once yearly longest day. Consequently, we have decided that for 2010, life’s birthday will be on Saturday 19th June.

If this all seems a little contrived or vague, it would be wise to remember that this is the only creation story for which we have incontrovertible evidence. Thanks in no small part to Charles Darwin, for around 150 years now, we have known about our shared origins with life on earth. Many have written about our biological history, but it was one particular phrase down the spine of Richard Dawkin’s book The Ancestor’s Tale that sparked this whole event ~ a pilgrimage to the dawn of life. Human culture is exuberantly scattered with many different creation story celebrations. They bring richness, colour and shared experience for many billions across the globe. For some these festivals feature as the most important aspect of their whole year. Such things are clearly important, and yet our biological creation story remains almost completely neglected. It is time to put things right.

So how do we try to make up for this humongous oversight? Well, the British Humanist Association have supported our efforts to establish a wholly new non- theist festival and we would be delighted if you’d join us. Although we claim this as a shared experience for non-religious people; because, by definition, our common origins belong to us all, we warmly extend an open invitation to all people. Basically it will be a walk followed by a celebration, and in case this seems a little modest for such a momentous occasion, you can be re-assured that this is not just any walk.

For a start it’s a backwards walk. Not physically backwards, but a symbolic journey back 3.7 billion years to our roots ~ a secular pilgrimage in fact. Of course, we should not forget that it’s not just our birth story, but that of ALL life on earth, and consequently the event also promotes the International year of Biodiversity.

So how will it work? Imagine Darwin’s evolutionary tree of life, with millions of leaves on the ends of its branches, each representing a single life form. Manipulate this image in your head so that the tree lies flat along the spine of the Quantock hills in Somerset; its branches approximately lining up with its many footpaths. Now add yourself at the end of one particular branch, representing one particular life form. Your choice of life form will dictate the distance you walk. The main Human trail is around 13 miles, Amoeba just a mile or two, and there are 20 or so other trails to choose from. In your hand will be a route map and a rendezvous time. Alone you will start (or as small groups) but, together we shall gather. As you strike out along your specific branch you will soon arrive at your first rendezvous and people representing your nearest living evolutionary relatives will meet you there. Proceeding in their company, you will continue reaching further more distant rendezvous and gradually find yourself amongst an increasingly merry throng.

Eventually you will wind your way downhill and there will be no more groups to meet. Your journey’s end will be in sight; a beach called Kilve on the Somerset coast (famous for its fossils). With the sea glittering in front of us, we will have reached a fitting place to symbolise our collective moment of conception ~ 'the dawn of life'.

On arrival some of us may be tired, but all will be offered a bowl of refreshing soup. What flavour? Primordial of course! (ingredient list mostly available, but cooking method still partly a mystery).

And then the celebrations will begin: food, drink, speeches and music accompanied by many like minded people, all set amongst a beautiful, rugged shoreline. You are warmly invited to join us. Visit our website @ and find out how to take part. Look forward to seeing you there.

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