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Can you find something older than a dinosaur?

June 22, 2012
By Karen Wils , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Never fall asleep on a fossil!

The summer sun was high and hot. Even the dragonflies rested on the reeds down by the river.

The limestone slab below me was like a warm, but firm and comforting couch. The smell of blooming wild iris and milkweeds made me sleepy.

Article Photos

Karen Wils photos

Fossilized coral and cephalopods and brachiopods are commonly found in the U.P.

I dreamt that I was in an ancient green ocean. I floated effortlessly among colorful coral. Large seaweed-type plants opened and closed with the rhythm of the colorful coral. Large seaweed-type plants - some speckled, some striped - glistened in the pale filtered light.

Everything smelled organic. The scent of ozone, like the humid, almost electrifying smell before a thunderstorm, hung in the air.

Then the eerie, long arms of a cone-shaped octopus-like creature tickled up against my legs.

With a start, I woke up.

The ocean was gone and the grand river of flat rocks, the "Escanaba," lay before me. It felt good to be sitting there listening to the osprey and the blue jay again with all the colors and smells that I was familiar with around me.

I looked into the shallow water and spotted a tiny snail.

"Hey, little fellow. I think I just went back in time 400 million years and saw your great-great-great-grandfather."

It's fun to sit on the banks of the Escanaba River and let your imagination run wild. In the layers of the limestone, even an untrained eye can see many fossils. Pointing out fossils in the riverbed has long been a summer pastime for my family. Brachiopods and cephalopods were two of the most common ones that we would identify with our fossil books.

Older than the cavemen, older than the dinosaurs, we read. Just by touching these ancient remnants gave us a sense of awe.

I used to wish for sandy beaches, but over the years, I came to respect that limestone rock that has taught me so much. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, which is made up of layers of volcanic rock, sand and dirt. Limestone is like the soap scum on the bottom of the bathtub after the water slowly goes down. Sounds disgusting, but it is the type of rock where fossils are found.

Michigan is famous for its limestone cliffs. This rock is used for building foundations, for filtering wastewater, and in the smelting process of iron ore.

What amazing stories a rock can tell. As I walk up and down my same old paths along the river and notice the changing seasons and changes over the years, I start thinking. What will these rocks look like a hundred years from now?

One cannot help but respect a rock that tells the story of time. Take your kids fossil hunting along our rivers and beaches. It's a simple, cheap way to get some exercise and learn a little about history and nature.

Let your child's hand touch something much older than a dinosaur.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of North Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published each Friday in Lifestyles.



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