One hundred million years after my demise, give or take a million, earth and ocean will have piled on top of me and subsequently receded. Meanwhile, in a mere blink of a century or five, there will be nothing left of even my bones inside that diving suit, and eventually the suit itself will disintegrate. But by then, that suit will have created a mould in whatever clay has settled on me. Millennia-long story short: I want to come back as a fossil.
I was thinking this during my recent vacation. I know: some vacation. But it wasn’t so morbid as it sounds. Deb and I and two of the kids were camping on Grand Isle on Lake Champlain, and we took a drive up to Isle la Motte, where there are remnants of the reef that once lay beneath the ancient Champlain Sea. During our drive, we made a detour to look at old fossils at the abandoned Fisk limestone quarry. I know: some vacation.
It’s true that old fossils, especially ones you find in abandoned Vermont quarries, aren’t so special to look at. They’re mostly just squiggles in the rock. They look like seashells, except even more boring. If you put your ear to a fossil, you don’t hear the ocean, you just get dirty ears.
But fossils intrigue us because they are something that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, which is far longer than any of us can imagine with our allotment of three score and ten, or with any luck four score and a few good years in a decent geriatric care facility where harmless canoodling with the other inmates isn’t entirely frowned upon.
And for something as old as a fossil to still have a presence today, even if it’s merely the shadow of its cephalopodic self, that appeals to the imaginations of us frail and finite humans. Fossils are essentially prehistoric graffiti that say, “mmfmfmmfmmrmmm,” which is crustacean for “I was here.”
We were camping at the state park. On our second day, we transferred to a prime site overlooking the lake. Sometime in the recent past, someone had built rock and driftwood stairs into the bank down to the water and made a small gravelly clearing, giving us our own private beach on the lake. Abby had read somewhere (probably Facebook) about a fish in one of the Great Lakes that allegedly latches teeth-first onto men’s dangly bits. As I waded out from our private beach, she warned me, “Watch out for the man-eating testicles.” The weirdest part is we knew exactly what she was talking about.
On one of the larger shore rocks, a previous camper, I’m guessing a girl about Abby’s age, had scratched her name: “KATE.” By the following day, it had washed away. But for one day, Kate was remembered beyond her time here. She might also have left behind the sweatshirt we found, something her mother will remember beyond her time here as well.
We all try to leave our mark, for a day, for a generation, maybe for hundreds of years. That’s the ideal, and one of the reasons we have children: to leave a bit of ourselves behind (and to pay for the aforementioned geriatric facility).
Why else do artists and writers create, perhaps tales of genital-snapping lake monsters, if not to leave something that may last beyond themselves? We’re all of us painting on our cave walls, though some would argue that these days there are too many painters, far too many walls.
Some people, on the other hand, don’t care about the longevity of their mark, recognizing that ultimately it’s futile. Instead, they shout their barbaric yawp at the world to demonstrate that they exist here, now. I think of the man camping beside us on our first night. Not content to pass his existence in the shadow of anonymity, he cried out, “Hear me, O campers! Hear me speak loudly of bargain shopping! Behold my one-sided conversation with my yapping dog! Listen, all ye people, as I declaim on the quotidian of my life. For I am here! I AM HERE! Know me, my neighbours, during this brief time we share together ere all become dust.”
Which is why I was really glad we paid the extra and changed campsites the next day.