70 Million Years

It’s midnight, and I’m alive. But feel free to bury me up to my neck in the sand, near where the surf rolls in.  I want to feel the pull of the tide as it recedes and tries to take me with it. I want to feel that initial tug that says, “Come with me.” There are a myriad of primeval forces around us, but it’s the moon-driven tide that impresses me most. We and the earth are comprised of so much water, that it’s no wonder the attraction exists.

Then, as I shift my body and break free, I stand covered in wet sand that sticks to me like a second skin. I’m not sure I want to shake it free, because I’m immersed in a connected and ethereal moment that I don’t want to end.

Stare at an ocean long enough, and you won’t want to leave it.  Travel far out to its deeper waters, or listen to the arrival of its tide and you’ll come to understand its ever-changing moods. It can rattle your comfort zone with a violent thunderous pounding, or it can sing you a lullaby with the soothing sound of its gentle, foamy surf, and put you to sleep like a baby.

I’ve stood before mountains that make my jaw drop. To say that they are magnificent only touches the surface. To say that they have stirred my emotions does far more justice to defining their presence. Yet, as spectacular as their size and formations are, given the choice between mountains and the ocean, it is the ocean that catches my attention most.

Its movement and sounds are ever-changing, as it ebbs and flows, and rises and falls. It is truly as if it is alive—an organism of its own kind—restless, and never sleeping. A Jekyll & Hyde. A monster and a best friend. It can support massive ships just as easily as it can sink them.   Its danger and beauty are equally enthralling.

And it loves to surprise us…

Just outside of Denver, Colorado, there is a lookout point that provides a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains to the west. They consist of peaks climbing to over 12,000 feet. While the sight is impressive, there’s something else about it that completely challenges the imagination…

Prehistoric fish.

There was a time during the Oceanic era when the Rockies were underwater—when aquatic life was abundant. Aquatic fossils have been found thousands of feet high up in the mountainsides, confirming just how great the volume of water once was.

And so my imagination goes to work:

I’m standing at the lookout point. Well, I’m trying to stand, but I’m actually floating. After all, I’m in scuba gear, and it’s 70 million years into the past. I know, I know…as unrealistic as a hot air balloon ride to the moon, but bear with me…

The Rocky Mountains are about to enter a period of formation, but they’re obviously too far to swim to. The water is murky, and I have no idea how far up the surface is. I suddenly feel a turbulent current as my feet are swept from underneath me, but it is only momentary as I soon regain control of myself. However, in that moment of losing balance, I saw it pass by—obscured by the cloudy water, but close enough to partially make out: dark gray, scales along the ridge of its back, a large head, and at least ten feet in length. Was it carnivorous? Was it hungry and now on its return? Or was it docile and simply enjoying an afternoon swim?  Uncertain, I figure it’s as good a time as any to leave the lookout point, and swim upward.

I swim until the murky water gives way to the first signs of penetrating daylight. Soon, shafts of sun rays are beaming down around me, and before I know it, my head breaches the surface. I push my mask up to my forehead, take out my mouthpiece, and then look around. Water, water everywhere. Not a mountain peak to be seen. I taste the water’s salt, and feel its sting in my eyes. Bobbing up and down, it dawns on me that I’ve traveled 70 million years into the past, only to confirm that the ocean—for as long as it’s been around—never gets old.

                        *         *        *

If you drive 236 miles east of Denver, you’ll come to an outcropping of chalk formations called Monument Rocks in Oakley, Kansas. And what an unlikely place it would seem to be where an archaeologist discovered the 14-foot fossil of a carnivorous saltwater fish—Kansas, of all places. But the region shared the same seaway that extended from the Gulf of Mexico through the Rockies and north into Canada.

The locals in Oakley will tell you that after a rain, the chalk monuments will emit a smell like that of an ocean bay. Seventy million years later, and in flat lands of Kansas, you can see and smell the remnants of the ocean.

If you’re fortunate enough to make the trip to Oakley, do yourself a favor and look out at the surrounding prairies of tall buffalo grass, and even beyond, to the sprawling fields of wheat.  What you’ll notice is the sound and movement of the fields as they sway in the breeze.  And, like the ocean, it’ll captivate you.  It’ll put aside any concern you may have with time by simply drawing you into its near-hypnotic rhythms.

Funny how land can have a way of mimicking water. Perhaps those waves of grass are paying homage to prehistoric times when, after all, it was water that carved the landscapes of the continents and allowed life to exist.  The Monument Rocks are far more than just a place where a large fish skeleton was found encased in a tomb of Kansas chalk.  Instead, it’s a place that is alive with the history of the ocean.  A place where the sea once rocked hard on stormy nights, and rolled gently on lazy afternoons.

A place where the ocean receded, but really never left.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

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