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Mastodons in my office

Original post made by Dolores Ciardelli, editor of Danville Express, on Jan 31, 2009

Whatever happened to the mastodons? people may soon be asking. Those would be the mastodons in the large image - more than 8 feet wide - that has hung in the Museum of the San Ramon Valley since its exhibit in spring 2006 on prehistory in the area. It depicts several elephant-like creatures called "Gomphotherium simpsoni" in a scene that looks more like an African savannah than the home of Mustang Soccer. They are related to mammoths and modern elephants but, unlike the furry mammoths, were covered with short fur.

The Museum is undergoing a facelift and the mastodons were about to be put into storage, a fact that made many of the volunteers sad. First the poor guys become extinct; next thing you know, their likeness is relegated to the hinterlands of the storage facility.

Then Museum curator Beverly Lane stopped into our new Danville Weekly office to pick up some papers and happened to notice our walls that, while not bare, were still a bit spare. We were planning to hang up covers of our old issues but had not yet done so. We did have our map of the world on the wall, which shows where readers have taken us along on their travels. And we have bulletin boards next to the desks. But still, the open clean walls cried out to Beverly: "Hang something on me - like an 8-foot portrait of mastodons grazing in the prehistoric Valley."

"How would you like to borrow our mastodons?" Beverly asked me. I remembered the picture - how could one not? - but I still went to the museum to check it out. The lines are vivid, the mastodons are distinctive, and it was beautifully framed in hardwood by Carlo Borlandelli. Why, I could see it against our back wall. It would definitely make a statement. And what a shame to tuck it away in a dark storage facility.

She'd tried to loan it to other museums, Beverly told me, and some had been enthusiastic. But none had committed. The move of the mastodons was just four days away so I had to decide quickly. Our ad manager, whose crew shares the office, left it to "my good judgment." Let's do it, I told Beverly, and she informed her volunteers who handle the heavy moving jobs.

She also told me the recent history of these Gomphotherium. When Betty and Paul Dunlap were assembling the prehistory exhibit, dubbed "Beast in your Back Yard," they saw that Bay Nature magazine had an article about the fossils excavated from the Blackhawk Ranch quarry with illustrations of the creatures who roamed the San Ramon Valley about 10 million years ago. They contacted the creator, Carl Buell, who kindly sent the museum a high resolution CD of his illustration, which Bob's Sign Shop then transferred onto the large backing.

So now we have a scene from 10 million years ago on our back wall. Mastodons weren't the only wildlife in the area at the time; there were also long-necked camels, rhinos, wild horses and saber-toothed cats. I'm glad this portrait depicts mastodons; I wouldn't want a saber-toothed cat hovering over me as I try to work.

I identify with these old fossils. I'm afraid someday when the word "newspaper" is mentioned, people will say, "Newspapers? They went the way of the dinosaurs."

Our office is on Town and Country Drive in the Village Shopping Center, the one that has a Wells Fargo Bank in front, and McCaulou's Department Store. Toward the back are two-story buildings with eateries and shops, and the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce on the second floor. We're on the second floor, too. The view from the office is magnificent. It's hard to work when Mount Diablo is right out my window, and now I'll have the mastodons peering over my shoulder.

Next time you're in the Village Center, drop in to visit the mastodons. If we're out working on stories and making sales calls, you can look in the window and enjoy the mastodons in all their glory, roaming through the prehistoric grasses as though it were yesterday.

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