is the shallow warm sea that all these seashells knew.
On this mountain,
every rock still holds the memory of that time.
When you are here, you hold it too.
The ocean’s salt is in your blood.
Its lime is in your bones.
Its waves rise slow and green around you
and you feel the pull of tides.
It never seems to be now.
Here, time flows back and forth so easily that any day
can be wrapped up inside some other day
that came and went a hundred million years ago.
Here, when I find a brachiopod
or a round sea urchin,
I don’t just see it as it is . . .
on a mountain locked in a rock.
I see it in that ancient lapping water.
I see the tiny clams plowing through mud.
I see sea lilies sway.
I see all the creatures with shell and plates and spines.
Slowly moving, glimmering, they hide in the crevices,
creep into holes in the rocks.
you are never surprised by things like that.
Sometimes you even feel
the long slow terror in that world
when water turned to mud.
Now that sea is a mountain of rock
that I climb with a shell in my hand.
If you are a hunter of fossils
you know how the day always ends.
You know how it is to go home
feeling glad that you walk in the sun . . .
You always walk home kind of proud.
You always hold on to that long chain of life as you go.”
Excerpted from “If You Are a Hunter of Fossils” by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnell.