Thursday, December 17, 2009

Anticipation? Expectation? Hope?

The fact that you never know what you might find can keep the most seasoned collector in a ‘collecting frenzy’ for hours. Even after years of collecting, one thing is certain – you may find yourself driving a little faster as you get closer to the collecting site, and running (not walking) as the fossil beds come into view.
~ Joe Cōcke, Fossil Shark Teeth of the World (2002), p. 2

A word of caution: don't let your expectations run too high.
~ Jasper Burns, Fossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic States (1991), p. 41

Yes, there is a curious urgency that can take over as I approach a site where there might be fossils. I’m trying to figure out what it is. Anticipation of special finds? No, I don’t think I’m deluded enough to believe that I really will make such a find; I certainly don’t expect to do that. Hope may come closer to it. But hope about what? Making that find? Not always.

I went out yesterday to hunt along the Potomac shore. I chose this time to head to the shoreline through the woods from a point different from my usual jumping off spot. All went well at first until I had a sudden awakening from that hypnotic rhythm that builds up in a hike. I came to and realized that there were no more blazes on the trees and that, rather than heading west as expected, the “trail” I was following was slowly taking me south. One would think that with the Winter Solstice less than a week away, navigating through mostly denuded woods would be easy. (I took a small bit of solace in the yellow reflective vest I was wearing – hunting season or not, somewhere in these woods were locals with rifles. Still, I could hear it now, “That’s right, Mr. Park Ranger, I thought the deer was in his winter colors of brown and yellow.”) No anticipation or expectation of wonderful fossil finds. Rather, a modest hope that I’d actually find my way out soon.

In time, the woods did slowly thin and I seemed to be turning to the west. And, then, through a boggy expanse of standing and fallen trees and debris washed ashore in recent storms, there was the river in all of its brown and murky glory. Though I’d hit the shore nowhere near where I expected, it was good enough. There was no running with high expectations to scan the beach for fossils. I really didn’t even have any hope left about that.

I pulled up a rotting wooden bucket that had been sinking into the muck and stuck it prominently at the exact place where I’d made it to the shore.

Meandering trail or not, I wanted the sure comfort of the expectation that I’d find the trail again when it was time to wend my way home.

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