An Interlude with an Atheist: Why I Collect Fossils

A brief outing/collecting trip this morning to an abandoned zinc mine near the base of the Arbuckle foldbelt near Davis, Oklahoma followed by a visit to an Ordovician-Period fossil site a little higher up the side of the anticline prompted me to think anew along the following lines:

 

The semi-chaotic stash of rocks and minerals at my house can no more properly be called a collection than those tons of materials that followed me like a bad penny between various jobs and domiciles over the course of past decades but are no longer in my possession owing to divorces, career moves, misplacement and reluctant abandonment. They are not now and never were a collection in any sense of the word that implies responsible curatorship: they are and were an accumulation of heavy, space-consuming chunks of Earth’s crust. True, they are more nearly organized at present (that is, sorted into labeled boxes) than they ever were before or ever again will be, but their sheer tonnage has most likely sealed my fate: I will eventually die in Norman, Oklahoma, for no relocation will ever again be possible.

 

I do occasionally ask myself why I do this.

 

Far be it from me to cloak with protestations of loftier motives those base impulses that actually drive me to do the things I do: I’ve always been something of a packrat, and my immediate surroundings are perpetually cluttered with scraps of lumber, discarded lawn mowers, glass bottles, rusty hand tools, bricks, lengths of twine, rope and electrical wire, railroad spikes, bolts and other curios I’ve picked up from beside the road and from piles of refuse: the detritus of civilization come home to rest with a human tumblebug (I am a paradigmatic Arkansan to the core, cinder blocks and all). My house is also littered with shells from various beaches, the cast-off skins of cicadas and snakes, countless seed pods, cones, dried flowers, leaves and fungi, driftwood, bones and teeth of every description, and most any other inviting thing I’ve had the (good?) fortune to stumble upon in my wanderings. (During one three-year period of my life, I collected so much desiccated scat from the trails in the Mark Twain National Forest – a blessedly short-lived fascination – that I could almost have opened my own turd museum.) And I haven’t even mentioned the books – not a library in any meaningful sense, but certainly an enormous accrual. The more of them I give away, the more that come home to live with me. It could well be that my rock collecting habit is no more than a subset of this more general impulse. But I think it is more.
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