|Figure 1. View of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument's |
iconic "Big Stump." Photo by S.W. Veatch.
A wreckage of plants and animals tumbled in the mud’s advance as it invaded the forest of tall Sequoias. It turned the area into a surreal, harsh, hellish place, wiping out local populations of oreodonts, rhino-like brontotheres, and small horses. Birds, struggling to dodge the devastation, flew skyward from the branches of trees that stood above the mud. Tendrils of steam rose out of the jumbled mess of mud that surrounded the bases of the trees. The weight of the mud pressurized and squeezed the wood. Over time, silica in the mud penetrated the wood, leaving behind the remnants of the ancient forest we encounter today.
I first saw the petrified trees when I was in grade school. I came back often with my family to look at them again. This relic stone forest changed me. I studied fossils and rocks because of them. And I learned from them. I now realize how mankind is a force of nature and how we can alter landscapes, just as the ancient mud and ash did so long ago at Florissant. Our addiction to fossil fuel has altered our planet’s atmosphere and contributes to changing global climate. Florissant’s Sequoias are extinct because of climate change, and these trees encourage us to contemplate our annihilation as the planet experiences rates of extinction not experienced since a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs.
At the stone stumps, I take a few minutes to listen, where the sounds of the chirping birds, chattering squirrels, and the soft whispers of breezes exist with the noises of development—homes being built, cars moving and dogs yapping. I can also hear the petrified forest—it speaks of an Earth that is always in a state of change, but this protected ancient forest (a national monument now) also provides a place where change slows down, at least for me. As I look at the fossilized trees, I sense a calm as they release me from my ego and create an awareness of the wonderful things I can discover outside of myself.
|Figure 2. Dynamite was used the early twentieth century to expose this stump. |
The use of explosives resulted in the shattered texture of the stump and
required the use metal bands to hold it together. Photo by S.W. Veatch.