These days in my workshop I’m cleaning up a piece of limestone that I collected outside of Schoharie, NY. If you look at the top of it, you can’t help but notice how flat and smooth it is. Why?
Look closer and you’ll see the parallel groves. These are the marks of glacial ice, evidence of a time over 10,000 years ago when glaciers scraped the landscape clean, removing the overburden down to 400 million year old Devonian era sediment.
Look a little closer at the piece and it becomes clear that these sediments were laid down at the bottom of a shallow sea. There are circular shapes of brachiopods (shelled creatures) and crinoid stems (sea lillies) which have been sliced through by the glacial ice.
When you turn the piece over – this would have been the next layer down -you can clearly see the undersides of numerous brachiopods which had been buried just below the surface level. Because they were untouched by the forces of nature for most of their post-mortem existence they are beautifully preserved. I’ve never counted all of the complete brachs or the sliced ones, but in a piece of rock less than a foot square there has to be at least thirty. And that’s only counting those I can see.
Fecundity. If you project the ratio of fossils to rock over the immense size and depth of the rock formation from which this piece came the amount of living things is as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach.
Immensity. When I look at the top of the rock I see indisputable evidence of the presence of millions of tons of ice, probably several miles thick – vanished in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking – that once covered and shaped the landscapes of the southern half of New York State.
Transcendence. I hold in my hands a small but tangible reminder that I am a part of a chain of life that reaches back over eons and has been shapped by forces and provided a home to life forms that I can’t even comprehend. Something so small speaks, if we listen, of a much more immense reality.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)