I have always loved old things, preferring them to the new and the shiny. I take it to heart that more and more of our old buildings are being imploded for the sake of progress, The Armory, Lincoln School, Audubon School, The Huber Home, have all been victims. Eyesores, some have called them, dangerous buildings, accidents waiting to happen. History, I say, that will never be repeated or enjoyed again, like the cafeteria on the mezzanine of McCabe’s Department store or the ice cream counter at Pitcher’s on 30th in Rock Island.
There are some landmarks, though, that can’t be bulldozed. They will find their way into our consciousness, even in a disaster. Cases in point; the fossils found along the shores of our own Mississippi. Paleontologists will tell you that these fossils, by definition, evidence of prehistoric life, become exposed when the River’s water levels drop, or after the waters of a great flood have receded. See, they will find us, come “hell or high-water.”
They also show up where you least expect them; trilobites and fossil ferns showed up in the limestone rock borders of my parent’s garden in Rock Island. Huge rocks encrusted with fossils with exotic names like Cladopora, Cephalpods, Anthozoa, Platyrachella, Productella-they made a home for a water snake that slithered out when I lifted up his rock roof to see the fossils close up. Twenty five years ago or so, they showed up at the gift shop of the Putnam, pre-IMAX, and in the sands near the Cordoba Nuclear plant, where we fieldtripped for Summer Biology in 1975.
Our fossil landmarks are far older than the demolished school buildings amid whose walls our teachers first introduced them to us. They hail from the Devonian Period of prehistory, between 410 and 360 million years ago. Appropriately, many of these were marine animals, and fish
Later ,the new kids on the block appeared during the Ice Age, the wooly mammoth, giant ground sloth, the land animals, ancient at 10,000 to 2 million years old, but familiar. They coincided with us, with the humans, who learned later to destroy so well. Fossils humble us, these often tiny pieces of prehistory. They have already outlasted us; they lived in some form or another for hundreds of millions years. We have only lived in this Valley for some 10-fiftenn thousand years. If by chance my fossilized remains should survive a million years, and some archaeologist in the far distant future finds me, I hope I have that little fossil fern and the trilobite clutched in my bony hand. And I hope I’m part of prehistory lesson that’s taught in a school that isn’t in danger of being demolished.