fossil eyed

it was late afternoon
when I cut out across the dunes
heading for the crumbling cliff head
and its famous, fossiliferous, geological beds

my first find was indecent
definitely more recent
than the early cretaceous
more the raw material of the whole petrifying process

a seal carcase
stinking up the place
more or less intact
except the head had collapsed
into a gawky kind of grimace
like the seal was embarrassed
to be found dead on the sand
its flippers terminally fanned
its eyes all I don’t know
the sorry sockets stripped out and on show

‘grin and bear it’ mum used to say
when things weren’t going my way
well – the seal was definitely grinning
as if life was a joke with no end and no beginning
though strictly speaking the poor thing was beyond any bearing as such
and the way it looked you’d have to say
it was baring a little too much



the goddamn professor

Out early this morning, looking for fossils along the shoreline just west of here.

rockpoolIt takes a while to key-in to the business of looking. It feels less like a hunt and more like a meditation, a slow working down through the normal levels of thinking into something steadier, quieter, more finely tuned to the thing you’re looking for. I remember a description in The Pearl by Steinbeck where he talked about the pearl fishers hearing ‘the song of the pearl’, a distinctive note rising and falling amongst all the other natural voices they swam amongst. Not that I’m claiming to have the song of the fossil in my head. I’m only here a week. But, hey! It’s great to get up early and act as if you can carry a note.

All this is a precious and literary way of diverting attention from the fact I didn’t find anything. Which is an epic fail, considering how fossiliferous the place is. (And that’s just an excuse to use the word fossiliferous – which is quite possibly one of the most ludicrously extravagant words I know, along with concatenation, and maybe bioturbation.) It’s a beautifully dramatic stretch of coastline, though, especially after the storm last night. A real battle zone between land and sea. The forest trees cling to the meagre top soil, whilst the trees at the very edge totter and lean with their roots exposed, overlooking all the sea-worn timbers on the shore. It all feels very liminal and exposed. I could happily beachcomb here all year. Only next time it’d be nice to have Lola along, too.

I just looked up how to spell ‘beachcomb’, to see whether it was hyphenated or not. The definition Google came up with was this: Beachcombing is an activity that consists of an individual “combing” (or searching) the beach and the intertidal zone, looking for things of value, interest or utility. Which is a definition that really seems to fit. Because although I was primarily looking for fossils, I was happy to find other stuff that had been washed up, including worn bits of pottery and glass, and taking photos of things I thought looked good and that I might be able to Tweet. So – absolutely. Beachcombing. With a touch of meditation thrown in.

I didn’t see too many people out this morning. It was still pretty murky and rainy. And everyone I saw had a dog or two with them. We’d wave and say good morning (the people); hold out my hand and say helloooo! as they bounded wetly up, around and on (the dogs). I wondered if they thought I was some kind of expert (the people). Because there I was in the early morning, wearing glasses, a bag over my shoulder, crouching down amongst the rocks at the water’s edge, wearing the right kind of sandals, not caring my khaki trousers were getting wet, holding very still, gently reaching out, picking something up, lifting my glasses, looking at the thing closely, gently putting it down again. I must have looked like a Goddamn professor – when actually I had only the vaguest idea I might find some shark teeth or maybe the odd bivalve, and that about twenty or thirty million years ago this was all something like the Florida Everglades.

Happily, they left me to it.