May 2023



Although much maligned, coal really is a beautiful rock. Fundamentally it is fossil sunshine. The energy of the sun drives photosynthesis, which in turn drives transformation: atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen become arranged into intricate and delicate plants. It is a process that has been happening for hundreds of millions of years. This particular piece of coal is over 250 million years old, though I’ve only had it about 10 yrs. My friend and fellow coal geologist, Prof Joan Esterle, gave it to me. It’s nearly the most perfect specimen of coal for several reasons: it’s size is just right, it been buried long and hot enough that it doesn’t fall apart and you can see remnant plant parts with your naked eye. It sits on a shelf in between books in my office. Sometimes when I need a break from thinking about whatever I’m thinking about I look over and marvel at it. This tiny, wonderful time capsule of life from a time so distant, a life so different reminds me of my own insignificance and how much there is yet to be learned. It’s a wonderfully freeing feeling and my spirit is buoyed.