Fossils and Serendipity
It still did not rain, but I was entrenched in the lean-to, paying for a second night. I started the day with the repeat tour of Ironwood Trail with my interpretation brochure, and took some more pictures of the flora. I then drove back to La Motte, hoping to see the second fossil site before leaving Champlain.
At the moment it was the only interesting to do thing I could think of, and I was still not ready to leave the islands. As Linda said later, some things are predestined. What is the meaning of this I am yet to know, but the second trip to La Motte turned out to be a very special experience.
As I reached the bridge to the island, a blue heron greeted me in the wetland. An apple tree handed me its treasures for free… I stood and watched this elegant being calculating its every move, weighing in the entire environment, me included, before finally taking off and flying to another section of the swamp.
It was a beautiful day. I felt an urge to merge, and what better way to do that than plunge into the actual lake, submerge… I had been there four days already, but still did not get in. I checked the territory. Some people seemed to walk somewhere along the beach, but disappeared promptly. I hid behind a tree and changed clothes, tied my orange “tail” and the tight swimming shirt for extra warmth.
Still, it was cold, very cold. It was one of those northern experiences when you understood the expression “to take away one’s breath”. For a second it seemed that the breathing mechanism indeed came to a sudden halt… The orange “tail” gave me a sense of security as I swam, and the goggles informed me about what lied underneath the surface. A whole universe was revealed: seaweed fish, insects, and on the top floated the gentle leaves of the water lens.
The lake, like all other lakes here and in Canada this year, was low. There was a dead zone along the water margin, where algae and weeds were bleaching on the rocks and small insects were whirling inside and on top of them. None of this gets even close to the ecological disaster of our drying Kinneret or Dead Sea, but it is still sad. I hope the phenomenon will be reversed soon with rainier years.
My towel was left in the camping, so when I got out of the water I was afraid I’d freeze. Surprisingly, the opposite happened. I climbed on the rock and felt warm. The sensation was amazing. I did not feel the cold or the wet bathing suit “stealing” my body warmth to get dry. Instead, it felt as if I was wrapped around in a warm blanket… Merrill, later on, said that magical things happened on this island, but I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation. I sat for a while on the rock, enjoying the sensation, then changed and walked back to the car.
This time I just passed by St. Anne’s shrine and moved on towards West Shore Road and, once there, on to the Fisk Quarry Preserve. I parked at a small designated parking on the other side of the road. My Kia was the one and only car in the park, its yellowness conspicuous.
The Fisk Quarry Preserve - and Rock Colonization
I walked through the trees to the “rock” – a huge slab of bedrock…
…over which fossils were marked with stone circles:
As always I love to watch how life colonizes a new virgin terrain. You can see my article on the colonization of the Dead Sea sinkholes here:
The Fisk Quarry Preserve is an extraordinary exmaple of rock colonization. Colonization inevitably starts with microorganisms both on land and in water. As in the case of the sinkholes, the micro flora builds the platform for higher organisms to settle. Colonization on rock is especially fascinating. It is imperative that lichens, symbiotic consortia of fungi and algae or Cyanobacteria settle in first. They ingeniously cling on to the rock, and start breaking it up chemically (acids) and physically. Out of sheer rock, photosynthetic life starts, soil is created anew.
The dead lichen and the rudimentary soil serve as anchors for moss, an organism richer in organic compounds. When it disintegrates, it further supports soil creation. Mosses stick to the surface with such power you forget the rock is just a few millimeters underneath. Thick moss traps dust and particles from the atmosphere and thus further enriches the nascent soil. Eventually seeds of higher plants – grasses, herbs, and then shrubs take root, to be followed by trees.
Lichens are considered the key to colonisation of Earth’s land mass through their ability to degrade rock and create soil. Plants historically followed through a complex sucession and evolution. Here on the rocks of La Motte I could see this cosmic process reenacting itself in small niches, one at a time. Stunning!
What makes this place so captivating is the combination of early biological life seen in the fossils – the bedrock and the quarry walls – with the ongoing creative processes happening in the here and now…
Below is a slider showcasing the rock colonization taking place in the quaryy. Click on the pictures above for enlargement.
I took a walk on the forest path that originated from the quarry area and continued until the nearest cornfield. It was quiet and magical and solitary until a couple popped out of nowhere with a huge dog. I told them I saw a snake and they were scared. I said I thought their dog looked scarier to me. The snake slithered fast from the path to the undergrowth around.
In some areas the ferns were as tall as my belt. Quiet and birds. I walked back to the rock, and, luckily, tried the other side. This is how I discovered “The Ponds”, an unbelievable richness of Life set against the incredible fossilized richness of the ancient Reef… Water lens on top, reeds inside and out, frogs on the rocks, a lot of water vegetation, birds. There are also coyotes, foxes, beavers and more, as Merrill told me.
Merrill was an older guy hugging a tiny lap dog, who suddenly showed up and asked me if the yellow thing in the parking lot was mine. Then said: We are both walking on the same path…
If this frog looks sagely, it might be because it is!
Merril and the Stromatoporoids
First I cringed. I wasn’t sure if I could trust. I was alone with a stranger in a wide desolate territory, but very soon figured he was totally decent and completely harmless. Furthermore, he was actually an interesting and informative person. As the evening wore on, I discovered he was a wonderful man, but that happened once I taught myself to trust.
He said he worked at the park’s office, which was right next to the Fisk Quarry Preserve, a bit down the road, and invited me enthusiastically to come over. I showed him the frog I spotted in the pond, and he said there were many. I asked if he could find me a beaver, as I was still looking forward to seeing my first specimen. He made an effort, but there just weren’t any. He told me a long story about a grandfather beaver who lived here 20 years ago.
For more than two decades he was following the fauna and flora in that little paradise. I gathered he had been living here for a long time, perhaps a native to the island. He said he was neither a geologist nor a biologist, but sounded very knowledgeable nonetheless. The more he talked excitedly about the creatures of the pond, the safer I felt with him.
Then he showed me the stromatoporoids on the far side of the quarry. I wouldn’t have noticed them without his guidance:
Something about these Beings and how they pop out of the quarried rock struck me as another Grand Mystery. Their strange name was a part of it…
I asked Merrill if there were places around to have dinner. He invited me instead to come over to the office and have some coffee, and maybe he can arrange something to eat. Then he gave me instructions how to get there and left. I kept walking by myself a little further, discovering more charming niches, but eventually made my way back to the parking and drove down to the houses I figured must be the park office.
They were “sort of”. In actuality, they were the private dwelling of an amazing lady by the name of Linda. She came out of one of the houses just as I arrived, and eased my tension about a solo time with Merrill. He gallantly guided me to drive on the grass and park behind the bigger building.
Linda was a force of nature… A petite New Yorker packed with energy and idealism and with awesome abilities to deliver. I was invited to sit on the porch as the sun was rapidly setting.
I soon found out the little dog was actually Linda’s, but Merrill kind of declared ownership de-facto. It was a warm and welcoming environment, where everybody was connected, and where Linda’s energy set the tone for everything.
We were sitting on the porch. The sun was slowly sinking. People came and went. Linda’s female friend, C., showed up for a few minutes, then Linda’s son, a hi- tech guy who was living in the beautiful other building on the compound, and then there was Linda’s partner, D., a literature professor from one of the main universities. A hippie commune of sorts.
In the bathroom, an old, small room, painted blue and decorated with pictures and figurines, an antique bath on legs was filling up from a big faucet. In a few minutes the professor left us to take the plunge. When he came back it was time for pizza, which was delicious. Everybody was hungry, but there was no time to cook because of the festival the day before.
The Art Barn
Linda, an artist, idealist and art dealer, told me a bit about her life project – the “art barn”. The renovation was Merrill’s work, and the art came from people around the area and beyond. The place hosts various exhibitions, but she also produces art and music festivals there. The last one had just folded the day before, and she was tired. She cleaned the place herself. So many women overwork themselves and then more. I always recommend hiring a cleaner. She said she had one twice a week. Something about Linda felt and looked familiar and very cozy.
It was time for a tour of the barn. Despite those who said it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix it, Linda renovated the place with Merrill’s faithful work for much less, no sums given. He also helped fix up the other three buildings, one of which boasted Middle Eastern-style arches… The other part burned down in the twenties.
Taking the tour of the barn was a great opportunity for the two of us to talk in private. There were beautiful art pieces exhibited there, hanging on the walls, standing on the floor.
I sat on the antique oriental “Queen’s Chair”, and got my glorious photos…
Preserving Natural Treasures -One Woman's Passion
Linda’s main fields are music and writing, but she loves the visual arts. She studied a bit of geology and biology because of the preservation projects – Goodsell Ridge and the Fisk Quarry Preserve.
While in the barn, Linda told me how she came up with the preservation projects. The old quarry was abandoned by the century’s end, resulting in water accumulation and the formation of a rich biota. Linda and friends used to walk there and enjoy themselves, only one morning she heard the unmistakable sounds of drilling.
To make a long story short, she took it upon herself with many other “very good people” from various fields to save the quarry. Vermont’s law protects sites with ecological significance and importance to the public, making it easier. Still, it took three long years of battles. Now the sites belong to a trust. Hopefully these wonderful geological-biological treasures will stay in the public domain for ever and ever.
People like Linda use the money they have in the most perfect way for the noblest of causes. What an inspiration.
Linda was very happy I walked the WTT (Walk through Time), as she is the one who created it. Yes, she knew there were several others like that in the world. I’ve been to one before on a Scottish island…
And the Jewish-Israeli Angle...
I was also informed I was now in Bernie Sanders territory. On this island, Linda said, only 40 people voted for Trump out of several hundreds, 40 people too many, in her opinion. She had been to the Holy Land in the 80s, something about a Peace Now conference. Her ex-husband, apparently Jewish, organized a Palestinian-Israeli get-together in Carnegie hall.
I told her about my very Leftist friend who wrote a poem book “Dreaming Beyond War”, but I also had a need to clarify that on a day-to-day basis relationships between Arabs and Jews in The Land are pretty good, a far cry from the picture you get from the Leftist propaganda. I told her about my mixed Jewish-Arab classes in Ramla and how everybody treated everybody else with respect and friendliness. In my opinion the reality of daily life is more significant in the long run than the books and the conferences. The atmosphere heated up a bit, but then cooled down again. These people were just too nice for a fiery political discussion.
Linda liked Israeli music, and learned some songs from an Israeli friend. I played along on her old Steinway as she sang “Laila Laila” and “El Ginat Ha’egoz” with an excellent Hebrew accent. It was clear she was very musically gifted. What a joy….
You never know in this life how things can turn out on a given day. It all started when a guy holding a small dog in his lap started to talk to me on the bedrock, and here I was playing Israeli music with people I never met before, but who felt so close… Well, both Linda and Merrill believe in serendipity. It sure felt like it.
A bit later Merrill walked me to my car and I invited him to Israel. I got Linda’s card as well. Driving back in the dark was a bit iffy, but there were only two possible roads on the Island of Motte. You could never get lost here, even trying real hard…
Leaving the Campground
It’s not really cold. Yesterday it was actually 23ºC. My phone showed that in Eilat it was 26ºC! The cloud cover keeps the infrared radiation close to the ground.
The lake is gently whishing its waves against the shore. How could I live most of my life without that soothing sound in the background? There’s nothing more natural. Give me that sound at night and somebody to hug lovingly, and that’s my recipe for happiness.
19.9.2016, morning, Grand Isle Campground
Even dreams are a special habitat, lying just beneath the thin crust in between the wakeful and the sleepy consciousness. Where did the dream I was just absorbed in go?
As I took down the tent I started some Israeli “hoho” songs in full volume, starting, of course, with “Kol Kore Lindod Lindod “(A voice calls to wander, wander) and ending with “”Bein Nehar Prat Unhar Hidekel” (Between the Tigris and the Euphrates). All that activity attracted a decently looking guy with a beautiful husky blue-eyed pup, probably the same one that almost gave me a heart attack in the middle of the night passing by my tent…
And exactly now it had to start raining… Dear heavens, I just paid two nights for a lean-to in fear of rain, and now that I’m going to drive, it decided to start pouring… Bring me the weatherman, I’m ready to shoot…
NO! The unexpected meeting yesterday felt like it was “planned from above”, so – I was in the luck! No complaining…
And it was the first time this trip somebody I met on the road invited me into their home…
Not only dogs visit me here in the campground, also squirrels. How cute. In the lake – a heroic fisherman on a little boat, standing in his rain suit, totally romantic, like some phantasm woven in the screen of droplets. The boat bobs up and down by itself, and he stands there with his fish line…