By ‘ancient dead’ I don’t mean the human ancient dead, who, by planet measurements of time are really quite recent.
I grew up on the Jurassic limestone of the Cotswold edge. I guess it started because I wasn’t very steady on my feet – born with my toes pressed against my shins, I’ve always had weak ankles, and falling over was a frequent feature of my childhood. I still fall over on rough terrain more often than I am comfortable with. As a consequence, watching the ground carefully became part of my life early on.
The ground, it turns out, is an exciting place to fix your gaze. Alongside the hazard avoiding, I started seeing the wonders of the local rock. Shells, and limestone quartz can be picked up round here, and I collected, with a magpie’s glee for shiny things. Looking at the ground a lot stopped being a problem and started being a gift. It was only much later in life that I learned to walk with my head up and pay more attention to views.
Looking for dead things remains a comforting, heart lifting activity for me. Spending time with my face close to the earth, really starting at the ground, to discover its secrets, is wonderful. I come home with my pockets full of treasures, and the companionship of long dead things. They give me a helpful sense of perspective. How amazing it is, that of all the countless things alive in the Jurassic, these shells remained intact, sometimes in incredible, life-evoking detail. And against all the odds, I have seen them, divided as we are by amounts of time that I can’t begin to imagine.