Paleobotany and the Constant of Change

A FOSSILIZED EPIPHANY

“We change, whether we like it or not.”                                    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

I have been fascinated with fossils and dinosaurs since visiting Drumheller Alberta as a child during summer vacation. The road trip from Winnipeg through the monotonous and seemingly endless prairie shifted drastically as we drove down into a gaping valley netherworld of hoodoos, weathered rock and desert – it was probably one of the most dramatic changes of scenery I have ever encountered and it definitely left a lasting impression. To this day, I still go digging for fossils with my daughters in the interior of British Columbia, near Cache Creek. The area around the McAbee formation is reminiscent of Drumheller, with its arid landscape, sagebrush and occasional hoodoos. That said, the fossil record here reveals a completely different world – one of a diverse temperate forest bordering a vast freshwater lake, teaming with life. The paleobotanical profile includes both extinct and extant species such as Ginkgo, Metasequoia and Cunninghamia, which are only found today in the wilds of China. However, 50 million years ago during the Eocene period, this dry, desolate place was once covered in lush forests and abundant waters – with the only proof of this incarnation being the calcified impressions of leaves, needles, seeds, insects and fish that the girls and I brought home at the end of the day. It reminded me of how we handle change in the present tense, with many of us clinging to our memories, photographs and mementos of times past as a desperate means of preserving them – and yet the world and the people around us continue to evolve daily. Those of us who refuse to embrace this become little more than a fossil – a lifeless impression of the past, incapable of navigating the subtle currents and eddys that push us one way or another through this ever-changing stream of life.

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