bones, stones & fossils
As so many of us do on seashores everywhere, I like to pick up interesting shells and stones and take some home. This time, on our recent little vacation on the west coast, I discovered small stones that seemed more like weathered bone fragments. Our geologist friend agreed. Of what creatures, fish, whale, bird, I wondered?
Oddly synchronous was a fascinating novel I was reading during those days, an historical fiction called Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier:
In 1810, a sister and brother uncover the fossilized skull of an unknown animal in the cliffs on the south coast of England. With its long snout and prominent teeth, it might be a crocodile – except that it has a huge, bulbous eye.
Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning, who has a talent for finding fossils, and whose discovery of ancient marine reptiles such as that ichthyosaur shakes the scientific community and leads to new ways of thinking about the creation of the world.
Working in an arena dominated by middle-class men, however, Mary finds herself out of step with her working-class background. In danger of being an outcast in her community, she takes solace in an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth Philpot, a prickly London spinster with her own passion for fossils.
The strong bond between Mary and Elizabeth sees them through struggles with poverty, rivalry and ostracism, as well as the physical dangers of their chosen obsession. It reminds us that friendship can outlast storms and landslides, anger and and jealousy.
My findings were not fossils, of course, but I found the story resonated for me and was the perfect enjoyable read for this trip. I’m glad that I learned about this book from a review by Wandering Coyote. She also wrote about another novel about Anning, Curiosity by Joan Thomas, a Canadian author. I’d like to read it sometime later when Chevalier’s book fades in my mind.
Odd how these things happen together. A few days ago I read about this latter book in our local newspaper: What happens when two novelists have the same idea?
Such fascinating connections! And to think I’d never heard of Mary Anning before!
Added 22/11/2010 – more Mary Anning