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Creek Running North

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December 28, 2005

Fossil hunting

Fossil hunting They have torn down the giant rusting tank on the shore. In its place are scattered piles of brick. Pipes and scaffolding lay rusting along the tracks.

The storms have ceased, at least for now. The creek roils brown and low of voice. Atop the path ducks bathe, wash their heads.

Each storm takes another layer off this cliff face. The rock is soft. It crumbles in my fingers. Two centuries, three, and this little outcrop will wear down to nothing, or the sea will rise ten feet and cover it.

I miss my brother. Were he here, I would point out the sanderlings gliding an inch above the bay, the kestrel in the eucalyptus. We walked down here one day, his life at full ebb. We scrambled at the rock with bruised fingers.

One face offers nothing, the next nothing. Some rocks, pried from the cliff, expose webs of roots. This was a shallow sea. Sand washed off a river long dead. Now grasses splinter the rock.

So many days in climbing loose, unstable slopes. So many stones wedged deep in the boot. Some forty years these hands have broken rock. Shale, sandstone, siltstone. Sometimes the rocks ask to be split. Walking some years ago I hefted a rock, dropped it on another. It cleaved to reveal a Miocene scallop. Becky was entranced. "How did you know it was in there?" I hadn't known.

The third face is the one I wanted. The rock comes away with odd, round indentations. I free a rock, another, and then there it is: a clam, three quarters of an inch broad and thirteen million years dead.

Sometimes the rock preserves the living shell, and fossils bear a thin veneer of pearl. More often all that lived is gone. Only a mold impressed into the sediment remains. That mold fills, and a replica of the organism is cast in native stone. Held in the hand, this looks and feels like a clam. It is an echo of an echo. Seafloor was shaped. It shaped again in turn.

The rain will come tomorrow and the next day. Wet wind off the ocean will pelt the rock. The little clam saw light today for the first time in millions of years. I place it on the ground. A season or two will dissolve it.

Posted by Chris Clarke at December 28, 2005 10:41 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs



Posted by: beth at December 29, 2005 06:20 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

This makes me miss the Capitola Beach and the fossil- rich rocks and cliff face that stretch for a mile. Those 13 million year old secrets always put life into the proper perspective for me.

Posted by: Rexroth's Daughter at December 29, 2005 07:44 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

This piece certainly isn't that, but I swear Chris, you could WRITE ABOUT reading a phone book and make it poetic and interesting.

Posted by: OGeorge at December 29, 2005 02:31 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

chris, you infuse poetry into the quotidian regularly. who'd expect a description of a clamshell impression to be lyrical?
and while we're gathered, here's a toast to hope in 2006.

Posted by: peacebug at December 30, 2005 07:58 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs