I stand at the end of eons of history, quite literally. My feet rest on the youngest layer of earth, writing the smallest sentence at the end of a never-ending encyclopedia that is the story of our world. There has been an unfathomable amount written before me and there will be an unfathomable amount after, my mark almost certainly to be lost to time. It’s comforting to be part of something so huge, to be enveloped in the entirety of time.
The story of the earth is plainly written in its surface, if you only know where to look. The rocks that would be so easy to ignore tell a riveting tale of millions and millions of years and contain so much information in such a small package. It’s a tale of life and death, of the ebb and flow of worlds that would seem so foreign to our eyes. The very ground I stand on has been covered in water, tromped on by dinosaurs, and experience more than we will ever know. You can flip through the pages, travelling through time itself, just by walking down a hill. Hidden in the thinnest layers of rock are years and years of history – some lost forever, and some just waiting to be overturned.
You wouldn’t pretend to understand the entirety of a book just from reading the last page – you might get lucky and get the major plot points, but so much would be out of view. As a biology major, I have had minimal prior experience in decoding that story hidden within the earth. Instead, I’ve been taught to use what is currently alive on this planet to decode the past – for example, birds are so similar to each other that they must share a common ancestor somewhere in their evolutionary history. What the rest of the story uncovers, however, is that birds are descended from specific dinosaurs that existed millions of years ago. I have had hands-on experience observing this history: the Morrison Formation was deposited 150 million years ago and has several outcroppings here in Wyoming. In this formation, we have been able to find fossils of Theropods (characterized by dense bone matter that would have supported hollow bone structure) – these are the common ancestor that modern birds have descended from. There would be no way to understand this story with such specificity if it weren’t for the way ancient ecosystems are able to inform our scientific knowledge of the modern world. It’s a beautiful thing to not only be able to read the story of the earth but also know that I myself am part of that story – to be written in the rock for the rest of time.