Friday, January 23, 2015

The Great Inland Sea

When I was a little girl I wanted more than anything to be a paleontologist. Some of you have heard me tell a story about it but the desire was more intense than I generally describe. I consumed books on dinosaurs and fossil hunting. I could rattle off Latin names with an ease that might have been a bit uncanny in a six year old. I wanted to be a paleontologist long before most adults knew the word.

When I was a little girl my family would take extended camping trips across the country. While my parents set up camp I would explore. This was in the days when most parents were happy to let their kids roam out of view. I would find remnants of other times and come back shouting, "I found a fossil! I found a fossil!" It was so commonplace that my family stopped finding it extraordinary.

I grew up. I fell in love with other careers, namely writing and storytelling, but I never lost my love of fossils, so when we moved to Kansas City in January of 2013, I was fascinated by the highway cuts that showed me the evidence of times long past, evidence of the waters that once covered this land. As Kevin and I would drive through Missouri and Kansas I would point, saying, "Look! Look at all that sedimentary rock! I know there are fossils there!"

We planned to go fossil hunting. We loved having adventures and I thought scrambling around on rock faces looking for evidence of life millions of years ago would have been a grand one.

We didn't have that chance. We only had one summer together here and planned to go exploring later. By the autumn Kevin was becoming ill and, as you know, he died in March of 2014.

A few weeks after he died, I went fossil hunting. I took a rock hammer and gloves to a nearby roadside cut. I stood in front of that rock face for a long time and imagined.

Once upon a time this land was covered with salt water. Creatures large and small lived and died here. Some settled to the bottom where they were covered by debris and slowly, slowly their bones turned to stone. 

Once upon a time the water receded and grasses grew. The land was fertile and supported megafauna, then buffalo, then humans. From time to time someone would find a shell made of stone or a bone harder than bone and they would wonder. They would make up stories about the things they found. They would dream, imagine, learn.

Once upon a time a boy was born. He was bright and curious and loved. He loved the ocean and crunching shells underfoot. Once upon a time a girl was born. She too was bright and curious and loved. She loved the hills and collected the stones she found everywhere. They grew.

Once upon a time this boy, now a man, and this girl, now a woman, met. They became friends. They fell in love. They dreamed, imagined, learned. They lived. They loved.

Once upon a time the man grew ill and died. 

Once upon a time a woman stands in front of a wall of stone, millennia layered in front of her. She taps her hammer into the rock and a shell falls into her hand. Tears fall upon it, the shell wet with salt for the first time in time beyond imagining.

My great inland sea pulls me in tides of longing and grief, ease and sorrow. The salt in my blood calls to the salt in the ocean. The rock in my hand is the shell underfoot. Time stretches and shrinks, rolls and vanishes like a wave. You are here with me yet not here at all.

Someday the sea will recede and fertile land will arise. But not yet. Kevin taught me to swim in so many ways. He is still teaching me.

I float and drown, kick and paddle. The salt is sharp on my lips and I close my eyes at the taste.

(43 weeks.)

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Beautifully written, moving piece! I love the shift to swimming, tears, the eternal shell turned to stone. Thank you.


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