Friday, July 20, 2012

A Dinosaur's Knee

I have too much to tell you to do it justice at this hour. Today, we went to the Children's Museum in Indianapolis. I loved it, from the Chinese junk made of Legos to the conversations with real archaeologists scraping dirt from bones. Did you know that they use Legos to make boxes for molds? I thought you needed to know that.

When I was a little girl, I read a book about Heinrich Schliemann and suddenly I wanted to be an archaeologist.

Back then, I was a collector of Crinoid stems. What, you ask, is s Crinoid stem? It's a fossil of a plant that was something like a horsetail. I liked these fossils because they grew in little disks and I could string them like beads. I had quite a collection, big ones, tiny ones, single ones, and clumped ones. The big ones were about and inch in diameter. You could see the radiating lines on the disks where they nested with the disk above or below them. The tiny ones were about the size of the fingernail on my pinky finger.

Oh, I may have given away some Crinoids, but I loved them best in all my rock collection. Why do I like rocks? Why do fossils fascinate me more? The woods behind my house also offered up a fossilized coral too. I collected them, but I didn't like them as much.

So after I read this book about Heinrich Schliemann, I took my best friend Billy out into the woods and told her we were going to find some dinosaur bones. I just knew it. We dug around the creek with a shovel. I really didn't understand the subtle nature of archaeology when I was six and we dug little pits six or seven inches deep at regular intervals along the creek.

We found some Crinoids and corals and dutifully placed them in the shoe box we'd brought, but nothing exciting turned up. Billy was losing hope, getting hungry, no doubt. Finally, I lifted a shovelful of dirt and came up with a big knob of stone. It had crystals on one side. It was beautiful.

It had to be a dinosaur egg, an end off a broken knee bone, something really big. We packed it carefully into the Strideright box and brought it back to Billy's house for cleaning.

After a bologna and cheese sandwich and some Koolaid, Billy and I got a bucket from the garage and an old toothbrush from the bathroom. For all I knew, that toothbrush could have belonged to her older brother Rex, but I wasn't asking.

We rinsed and scrubbed that knee bone, getting more and more excited about the implications as we worked. I scrubbed at that crystal until it fairly shone. Muddy water was everywhere and when Billy's sister, Christine, came into the garage, she said we were in for a whupping.

We excitedly showed her our fossil and explained our theories. "We are going to be famous archalologists," Billy said.

"It's archaeologist, Dummy, and that's just a stupid rock," said Christine. She was two years older than us and that gave her the authority. She had already turned ten. She spun on her Keds and skipped away.

We were shattered. Billy started mopping up the muddy spill with an old towel she'd found. She emptied the bucket in the grass, leaving a pile of mud and stones. She picked up the toothbrush and the bucket and looked at me in that same way Christine had, with an air.

"You can have the rock. I don't want it." She left me sitting in her garage with my box of rocks. I picked them up and went home, taking one more look at this crystal that was almost the size of my fist, minus the dimpled knuckles. I didn't care what anyone thought. It was a beautiful fossil and I knew it was something. Some day, I'd figure out what.

When I was fourteen, I had a lot of time on my hands and learned how to use the transit system. One day, I took that big rock to the university's Geology department. It was nice to have this kind of resource at hand.

I was almost feeling shy when I opened the door to this big lab filled with rocks that made my rock look like a pebble. Crystals of all colors, fossils I knew that didn't come from around here, and an amazing array of tools. The man who sat there was friendly enough and offered me a seat, so I unwrapped the rock from the paper towel I carried it in.

"Do you know what this is?" I asked him.

"May I?" he asked before he picked it up. I nodded, embarrassed at my paltry offering. He turned the rock over in his hands, studying the side with the crystals. It really was a pretty fossil.

"Where did you find this," he asked.

"In the woods behind my house," I said as if that made things more clear.

"This is quite a find."

I couldn't tell if he was humoring me. I leaned forward in my seat.

"Can you tell me what it is?" I asked.

"This is a fossilized coral," he said. I'm sure my face showed the disappointment I felt.

"I thought maybe it was a bone."

"No," he said, "but this is just about the biggest specimen of this kind that I've ever seen. What are you going to do with it?"

And suddenly, I saw my rock labeled and mounted in a box in a warehouse of thousands of other specimens.

Suddenly, I wanted him to give it back to me. What if he wouldn't?

"I think I'd like to keep it," I said as casually as I could, reaching out to it.

He handed it back to me. I thanked him and wrapped my fossil back up in the paper towel and left as quickly as I could without being rude.

I have had that rock on my desk at home, wherever that might be, ever since.

Thank you for listening, jb

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