I have an old fish on the wall, and I get to ponder it’s life every time I walk into my loo at home. I’ve been pondering this fish for the last 24 years. Considering its age, it is not a stinky, yucky fish. In fact it is over 48 million years old, so any smell it may have had has long since evaporated.
Yes: it’s a fossil fish.
An extinct fossil fish no less, from the Green River Formation (Eocene age) and most likely Knightia.
Twenty-four years ago I drove west out of Laramie, Wyoming with a colleague from the US Geological Survey (USGS) to see about getting coal samples from around Kemmerer. It was a bit of a wasted trip but on the way back we stopped at a well-known fossil fish seller. I was blown away by the quality of some of the specimens, not to mention size. Then gulped at the price. In the end I found a couple of fossils that were affordable. The bigger one I thought I’d send to my sister. However within a month I had moved back to New Zealand where I promptly had it mounted and framed. It looked so good hanging on my wall that it has never left me (sorry sis!).
As I stand and often consider that little fish (its about 9 cm long) I wonder how it came to die. What was the lake like where it lived? If it poked it’s head above the water, what sounds would have reached it? How many times had it been prey and lived? What found it tasty? I envision the huge changes that have occurred in that tiny spot of Earth over the last 48 million years and how it is impossible for us humans to realize the true meaning of that kind of time scale. These thoughts give me perspective, not just on my life, but life in general and leave me feeling warm and awed by the natural world.
Awakening from my thoughts I often also wonder if I’ve attended sufficiently to the matter at hand (no pun intended). I recall the threat my USGS colleague, from all those years ago, would make to her husband about precision and closing of a certain lid (a threat echoed by her two daughters as well). Unfortunately for my wife, boys at home out number her; still, it makes her no less insistent on accuracy.