Teaching a Stone to Talk

Remnants of an ancient sea bed just off a neighborhood sidewalk

As I’ve grown older (yes, I admit it has happened) I’ve realized the importance and known the allure of history–my own, humankind’s and the planet’s.

And I remember first being struck in grade school by the idea that there are stories past and future that are absolutely REAL but that we cannot participate in beyond our imaginations.

I read Orwell’s Time Machine and Connecticutt Yankee and other time-based books and I think  the influenced my personal “lens” in important ways. But academically, I never “got” history as it was taught in school. The pity.

All that said, one of the most tangible mementos of time that one can hold in their hand is a fossil. And the impact of that experience is much greater if you find it yourself, right where the physics of the planet has left it, never before touched by human hands.

My son Nathan and I spent a precious five minutes in a neighborhood creek bed in Webster Grove (Saint Louis) while Ann walked Henry in the stroller. Nate had done the same exploration in a rare solitary moment, and knew we would easily find fossils like the one you see in the image above.

I found one small enough for my suitcase, and it will sit on my mantle back home as one more marker, one more reminder of just how temporary I am, we are, here is. And of what an interesting and remarkable place we inhabit.

I wish I knew so much more about the history of these unknown creatures, not to mention their identity–I’m guessing corals. If anybody knows more (especially an approximate geological age) I’d be most appreciative to have that information.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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