Tag Archive 'Chazy Reef'

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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May 09 2020

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Return to Fisk Quarry

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Following the governor’s orders during the pandemic, Judy and I went off the beaten path, midweek, midday. We went back to Fisk Quarry on Isle La Motte for a short walk. Six years have passed since we last stopped by. Time flies.

This was Judy’s first time seeing the quarry, actually. She stayed in the car during the previous visit, while I raced to the top of the quarry to check out the fossils embedded there. We were on our way somewhere else back then. Can’t remember where.

Fisk Quarry Preserve is part of the Chazy Fossil Reef – a National Natural Landmark located on a large island in Lake Champlain. Chazy Reef is one of the oldest exposed reefs in the world, dating back over 400 million years. The fossils of thousands of gastropods, cephalopods and other ancient marine creatures are embedded in its grey rock. Being there is like stepping back in time. Way back.

The last visit inspired me to write the first chapter of my book, A Reluctant Pantheism. The swirl of gastropod fossils reminds me of hurricanes, galaxies and other natural phenomenon, convincing me that such a thing as order exists in nature. How? Why? Some organizing force is at work, no doubt. God or simply the laws of physics? Either way, I drop to one knee in deep reverence.

Judy noticed it, as well – the incredible passage of time that makes one feel so small and inconsequential. Meanwhile, red-winged blackbirds flew overhead, a pair of mallard ducks swam in the quarry, and turtles sunned beneath a partly cloudy sky. All very much alive, like us, and living in the present. Wild strawberry, pussytoes and other wildflowers bloomed, while the first tree leaves slowly unfurled. Life goes on. Hundreds of millions of years later, life still goes on. It’s humbling to say the least.

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Oct 12 2014

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Natural Religion

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gastropod1On a balmy, partly cloudy day, while driving around the Champlain Islands admiring autumnal color with my wife Judy, I detoured to Isle La Motte to check out a rare geological phenomenon called Chazy Reef.  It’s the stony remnant of a coral reef that existed 480 million years ago, transported to Lake Champlain by the movements of Earth’s tectonic plates. Well aware of it for many years, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

I parked the car at the entrance to Fisk Quarry, where more practical folk once cut and removed stones for buildings. It is now a preserve and national landmark – one of two in the area. Judy stayed in the car, more interested in the here/now than fossils. I understand. Like gazing at the stars, any venture into the depths of natural history is an exercise in imagination. What one sees is only a rough sketch of what once was.

At first I saw nothing as I walked around the preserve. After all, I have only a layman’s understanding of geology. Then I spotted a swirl embedded in solid rock. Then another, and another. The skeptic in me assumed that someone had carved them, but a closer look dismissed that notion. I knelt down and touched those ghostly apparitions, half expecting them to disappear when I did so. My fingers traced the fossils as if reading braille. Then I got it.  That is, I sensed an order to things in a world that so often appears to be utterly random and chaotic.

Truth is I have always been something of a pantheist. I don’t particularly like that label, but it comes closest to describing what I feel during those precious moments when I see the hand of God in nature, when the yawning chasm between mathematics and mysticism suddenly vanishes and I understand, on some level, how everything connects.

The swirls I saw in the rock, the vague outlines of marine creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, remind me of the swirls of hurricanes and galaxies. There are forces at work in the universe that press our ability to reason to its limit. And when confronted by the Real, all I can do is genuflect. Nature, it seems, is wilder than our wildest imagination.

 

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