Yesterday I uncovered a 190 million year-old fossil - a priceless ammonite which hadn’t seen the light of day since Jurassic times. Now that doesn’t happen every day. Although it turns out, it quite easily could. A section of the Dorset coastline is littered with these ancient, spirally molluscs. How can it be that things that seem so distant and rare turn out to be so close and so everyday? And you can pretty much go down to the beach and pick them up.
I had been returning from my father’s 80th birthday. Driving along, I found myself reflecting again on time. So much happens, and so much stays the same. Old is the new young, according to one of his birthday cards - and once we’re 40… 50… 60... 80 ... we seem to be surprised by the numbers. How did that happen?! "I don’t feel any different." How fortunate we are, I suppose, if that is the case.
Anyway, zooming alone the high road through southern Dorset I found myself taking a turn-off onto the Jurassic coast. Ancient mud cliffs with ‘cement layers’ spill onto the beach, and small piles of broken up stone litter the sand where countless groups of fossil hunters have sat and smashed away with innumerable little hammers. There is a ‘code’ which suggests people stick to the beach and don’t take rocks from the cliffs, and there are plenty of loose rocks to pick from. It took me a while to get my eye in - lots of picking up and examining ... no sign of any ancient life. Then a lone fella who was leaving the beach gave me his hammer and chisel - he too was transient, passing by only for an hour or so on his way to a remote contract the next morning. He had bought his tools at the local cafe for a few quid. He had in his pocket a couple of shiny ammonites, a dinosaur turd (he reckoned) and a bullet-shaped belemnite. Neither of us had a clue what we were doing.
Then, as is so often the way with these things, bounty appeared. As soon as I felt like I wasn’t really trying any more, I was picking up bits of rock left by other smashers, and on each one was the clear imprint of several spiralling shells. Ancient beings. Tapping one fist-sized fragment of rock with my hammer, it gently split open, revealing a fresh specimen. This ammonite - long dead, but something of its spirit remaining, had been quietly sitting in that rock, in that mud, there, for … 190 million years. Now it was visible, in the fresh air, being observed by live eyes - available to another consciousness, for perhaps the first time ever.
It led me to wonder - what rich experiences lie just beside the paths of our lives, containing the wisdom of the eons. And how much can we enjoy if we can create just a little time - to follow our noses and our imagination. Where else might this curiosity lead?
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