Last week I turned 60. It seems like a threshold, somehow. No longer middle-aged. No longer in late middle-age. Early old age? The golden years? I prefer to think of the years as quicksilver, because that’s how quickly they’ve passed. I looked away and they were gone. Or not gone but stored, accumulated.

My friend Liz, whom I’ve known almost as long as I’ve known John — she was a long-time colleague of his at Capilano College and a dear friend too; we were introduced a few months after I met John and that was in 1979… — gave me a fossil for my birthday. In June we’d been on a little road trip together, the three of us, and we stopped at Whipsaw Creek near Princeton where Liz had once had a cabin. She remembered gathering fossils there with her daughters (now mothers) and so we hoped to find a few. And yes, we did. I wrote about that here:

On that trip, I said I’d always hoped to find a fish fossil. We talked about the Eosalmo driftwoodensis, the genus of extinct salmon from the Eocene period, found at various sites in B.C., including Princeton. And bless her, she remembered my wish and she gave me this:

P1110154It’s not Eosalmo driftwoodensis but a little Knightia, or fossil herring, from Fossil Lake in the Green River Formation; the Formation itself is in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah and Fossil Lake is in southwest Wyoming. Years ago our family travelled to the part of the world and it’s very beautiful. We visited museums where we saw fossil turtles, fish, plants that looked remarkably like their contemporary counterparts, with incredible detail due in part to the fine-grained nature of the limestone matrix they’re found within. And that year my children were young — 4, 6, and 8. I couldn’t have imagined the adults they’d become, the future lives they’d enter, crossing the threshold from childhood to adulthood with grace. I couldn’t have imagined that one day I’d be turning 60, with a precious granddaughter who will be 6 months old in 4 days. And her father will be 32 in a few weeks.

To everything there is a season, we’re told in Ecclesiastes (3:1). Where is the point from which we measure time? The formation of this tiny fish, 40-50 million years ago, or the fragment of leaf I found at Whipsaw Creek, from 33-56 million years ago, or my birth, or my children’s births, moments when I truly felt something new and unknown was beginning:

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

                                                      — from Hamlet, Act 1

they leave impressions on the landscape

I’ve been thinking about how we remember — details, stories, the intricate branchwork of family trees.  We gather materials and try to put them into a semblance of  what we imagine the whole complex structure to be. And yet there’s so much we’ll never know.

The other day we stopped by Whipsaw Creek where our friend Liz remembered collecting fossils with her children many years ago.  I’d seen fossils of Eosalmo driftwoodensis, a genus of extinct salmon found in various locations, including the Princeton area. The fossils in the Princeton chert are from the Eocene period, dating back 56-33 millions years. The little museum in Princeton has a good collection but this time we were going to look for our own and I had my heart set on a fish.

Alas. But I was so glad to find this, a tiny bit of flora from the past contained in a piece of rock. (Look at the upper edge of the rock. I tried to get the clearest image possible but I don’t have a camera designed for this kind of photography.)

little fossil from Whipsaw CreekI don’t know what kind of leaf it is.  Other finds in the area include dawn redwoods, ginkgos, the samara and leaves of elms, birches, ferns, and conifers. But to hold this in my hand, something millions of years old, and to think of its origins in that place…How much is contained in such a small remnant of the past.

When you pay attention, the past is everywhere. It might be the immediate past, like this skin discarded by a garter snake sometime in the last few days (and discovered this morning as I watered the rhododendron it was lying under):

empty skinOr this ranch on the Bridesville-Rock Creek Road, about as eloquent as a homestead could possibly be, with its lilacs and bluebirds and weathered boards, the song of the yellow-headed blackbirds in the marsh behind me as I took this shot:


I study these and try to piece together their stories — a ginkgo leaf, maybe, at the dawn of time, a snake easing itself out of an old skin, its new one bright and tender underneath, or a ranch in its bowl of sunlight, remembering the generations who cut the hay and tended the cattle.