Archive for August, 2021

Aug 25 2021

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Looking Deep into the Past

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A few days ago, I revisited Fisk Quarry in Isle la Motte, where there are all kinds of marine fossils in full view. Then I stopped by the Goodsell Ridge Preserve to see even more fossils etched into stone over immense periods of time. I’ve been reading a lot of natural history recently and wanted to look with my own eyes deep into the past. After all, seeing is believing.

The fossils didn’t exactly jump out at me. At first all I saw were strange shapes in the rock that seemed more like hallucinations than anything real – projections of my own thoughts onto stone. But when I reached down and touched them, yes, that made them very real.

Gastropods, cephalopods, stromatoporoids, bryozoa – the names of these ancient creatures are as strange to me as what I was seeing. Or at least they were. But if you say such names frequently enough they become commonplace. The brain makes room for them, and for what they represent.

Chazy Reef it is called. Not a reef in the strictest sense, since the mound of life forms that built up there over time contained only a smattering of corals. It dates back 480 million years, and was located back then where Africa is today. The tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust move a couple inches each year, so now Chazy Reef is in Vermont. Pondering that alone is enough to make my head explode.

480 million years… That’s a long time. Back then marine life was all the life there was. Amphibians, reptiles, and land-loving mammals like us came along much later. It’s difficult to fathom that passage of time, and even more difficult to think of the natural world as something much different from what it is now. We take so much for granted. But this world of ours, all the stars and galaxies, the entire universe has been evolving for 14 billion years. And it will continue evolving long after you and I are gone. That certainly puts things in perspective.

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Aug 09 2021

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Incredible Nature

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Both Judy and I have delved deep into nature this summer.

Judy has gotten into macro photography. Using a special lens, she creates photos of small subjects that are larger than life, enabling us to see them in a different way. Sometimes she takes photos of insects or other tiny creatures, but her main interest is flowers. The inner workings of some flowers are surreal. Sometimes they are downright cosmic. It’s amazing what her photos reveal when she gets up close and personal.

Meanwhile, I have been studying natural history, reaching way back in time to the emergence of life forms on this planet. It’s a long journey from single-celled organisms in an oxygen-starved world to multicellular plants and animals populating the ocean five hundred million years ago, then to the appearance of insects, amphibians and reptiles, then to flowering plants, mammals and eventually us. While millions of life forms have come and gone, many of the most primitive ones, such as fungus and algae, are still with us. Some species of algae are over a billion years old. Some species of bacteria are much older. It boggles the mind.

The other day, while I was cleaning out the birdbath in our back yard, I hosed green slime off the rocks that sit in its water. That’s algae, that only hints at the kind of primordial slime that once covered the earth. While I was going about this task, songbirds flitted from feeder to feeder, squirrels scurried about, insects crept through the grass underfoot, and trees swayed around me in a gentle summer breeze. Wild and domestic flowers of various designs bloom in our yard. So much diversity. So many different ways to exist, right out our back door.

Nature is unfathomable. The deeper we go into it, the more we see. From subatomic particles to galaxies, from a single cell of bacteria to the Amazon rainforest, there is so much going on all at once. How can we possibly wrap our brains around it all? Perhaps it is enough to simply marvel at the wonder and beauty of it all. But no, some of us want to go even deeper, hoping to find the driving force behind his phenomenon so casually referred to as evolution.

Nature spelled with a capital “N.” Yeah, that’s what I’m after.

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