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What happens when you just surrender to the magic of the universe?? Day 13!

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Home for the night: Chez Mathieu, Sackville NEW BRUNSWICK!

Distance: 63.7 kms

Weather: overcast and foggy, very warm and muggy. Eventually clearing mid afternoon to sunny, turning back to mist/blowing mist and/or fog and sometimes passing showers

B: homemade pancakes and coffee

L: vegetable rice soup, ratatouille casserole and ciabatta bread with butter (butter!!)

D: homemade dehydrated tomato/eggplant stew with couscous. Tea, beer, red wine and scotch!! (SCOTCH!!!)

 

travelling through time

we are all just artifacts

yet to be revealed

 

Today was the day!! I would go to the fossil centre and walk through time!! Feeling like a kid on Christmas morning I wrote in my journal and then headed into the house for the promised (and very anticipated!!) pancakes Mark had offered the night before.


I sat at their table in the kitchen happily listening to their stories and adventures over their 59 years of marriage. Both 83 years young, they amazed me. They met at a dance too..which is an adorable image as Mark is 6.5 feet tall (or taller!) and Edna has a stool to sand on for stirring pots on the stove!


The night before I had learned so much about their family, their travels and where work had taken them. Teaching around the world, Mark eventually was even the principal for a school in Mongolia!! Edna, a vibrant woman with many talents had moved from one job to the next picking up pieces, lighting fires and making great things happen wherever she went.


They had lived in Joggins for many years before leaving for many years until they returned to this day. Neither one of them were from the area, but they had become an anchor within the community, our conversation becoming testimony to their abilities to bring people together.


I quickly learned that asking to help in the kitchen was futile and Edna emphatically told me to "SIT DOWN". So I did. She tasked me with labeling all of her jars of relish she had just made that day, putting my name on them at her request as a memory of my visit. There was a laundry basket full of potatoes on the floor, a pile of green tomatoes awaiting their fate as chow and I felt right at home.


She was third generation Cape Bretoner, but of Phoenician descent. Mark was from Saskatchewan, but Dutch, retaining his accent. What a couple! We laughed a lot and discussed many topics of concern....the pandemic, the deforestation I had witnessed, the changing fabric of small, rural towns and industries come and gone. Stories, stories, stories, it was incredible. Mark had shown me his sailboats out in the yard, of which there were at least 4...maybe 5...they kept appearing as we wandered the yard. He also was experimenting with permaculture/aquaponics with his greenhouse and pond.


Their own children were nearby, with one on the west coast, and stories of adventures as a family had us giggling. Jenna, their daughter actually lived within eyesight of them and she joined us for coffee. What a fascinating woman! Tales of adventure and travel from her work with Parks Canada, studying potential sights for UNESCO designation. She also lives in Nunavut most of the time and I learned so much from her as a southerner entering into the Innuit culture, eventually gaining the trust and respect of those around her.


One of her jobs was project manager for the fossil centre and its creation. This detail had casually fallen out just before we said goodnight. It was something along the lines of "oh yes, that was when we were working on the fossil centre." Pardon me?! Despite deep humility I eventually teased the story out of them that Mark had found a paper that had been written after much research years and years and years ago recommending that a fossil centre be created to educate and protect the cultural and geologic heritage of the area. Curious as to where the momentum for the project had gone, Mark dug around and discovered it had quietly been shelved. Not one to let a good idea go to waste, Mark started digging even deeper and after 7 years of toil, meetings, frustrations, hiccups and victories the Centre was underway. An astounding amount of effort went into the project...and through Jenna's connections they were able to achieve designation as world heritage site. There are only 19 in all of Canada... and I believe 7 of them are on the East Coast. Joggins is as culturally and scientifically important as the pyramids in Egypt. Or the Great Wall of China!! Right in our own backyard.

Low tide! All the discoveries await!

It was time for my tour at the centre suddenly and I scuttled off with a belly full of the most delicious pancakes I had eaten in a long time. Two women from Fredericton joined me on the tour and Dana was our guide. He had grown up in Joggins, his father a fisherman. Like most youth he went west for work and eventually returned with experience in the field and an opportunity to become an interpreter and fossil hound. He grew up finding fossils, so naturally has a keen eye!


We learned about the first industry in the area of quarrying and manufacturing giant grindstones by the French that were sent all over the world. The fine grain stone in one small section of the area was unrivaled and teams of men would work at low tide to chip out huge circles of stone that would then be used for sharpening and grinding of metal objects.


Then came the coal. There are still obvious veins of coal on the beach right beneath the centre along with the remains of the old wharf that was built for the ships coming in to take the coal away. This was the site of the first underground, under WATER coal mine ever. The coal deposits stretched far out underneath the red mud and when the tide was in reports of salt water dripping through the tunnels abound. Lives were lost. Two on the first day the shaft opened. But there was such a hunger for work and profit that there were many miners to take their place. They crawled through 3 foot tunnels chipping out coal hoping the walls of mud and crumbling sedimentary rock around them wouldn't cave in. A display in the centre of their headlamps and safety lights is quite amazing. Originally they had little open flame lights that look like mini teapots with a wick coming out the spout. The light would be affixed to the miner's helmet and they would crawl into shafts with loads of natural methane...a great thing to do with an open flame on your head. Eventually Thomas Edison invented rechargeable headlamps that were much safer and could run for 8 hours a day, charge at night and be ready to go the next day. What a great step, even if it weighed 10 lbs and was the size of an old wall mounted phone!


Miraculously through all of this activity the fossil record has remained mostly unscathed. Fossils aren't found in coal, so they were left well enough alone. Now, the beach and its cliffs are protected and with a guide (or on your own if you know what you're looking at!) you can have the story of time told to you. It is sublime.


Part of what makes Joggins so globally spectacular is that it is accessible AND not only is the fossil record intact for a certain time period, it is intact for MANY subsequent time periods all along the beach. Every km walked along the beach represents 1 million years. If you walk in one direction, you see older fossils, in the opposite direction, they get younger. It's like a chronological library of the earth's history...and it really should be experienced. Joggins is the site of the first ever recorded land reptile in history!! A small, little lizard like creature named Hylonomous. It represents a sudden shift for all of the egg laying creatures that had existed up until this point. It didn't lay it's eggs in the water anymore....it was the first amniote, one who lays an egg with a shell! This was a total game changer as it now could live on land and not be reliant on returning to the sea for reproduction. They also had teeth....amphibians do not and this was an exciting indication that something unique had been found. They were first discovered in the bottoms of the fossilized trees that are all along the cliff faces of the beach. The forerunner of allllll the dinosaurs we are obsessed with with a lizard 10 cms long!!!

A fossilized tree trunk, right at its base. This would be where Hylonomous could have been discovered!

My mind was blown. We saw fossilized fish poop (coprolites....one term I remember from my geology minor!) and the proof of our native, prolific horsetail plants used to be the size of trees. It was very, very cool for me to be shown firsthand a stem of Equisetum arvense alongside its giant predecessor's stem. In my five years as educator at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, it was a common speaking point....that the significance of the little green plants that a lot of people hate because they take over the garden is that they are actually the modern day version of plants that existed when dinosaurs were beginning to walk the earth. !?!@$#! So so so cool!!


A stem within a stem!!!

We saw roots and bones and all sorts of things....my mind was swimming and I was so grateful for Dana, his time and his passion for protecting all of the history of the area, not just the fossils. I baty even scratched the surface of what there is to learn and I can't wait to go back.


The day was getting on, so I hurried back to Edna and Mark's to pack my stuff and get on the road. They insisted on feeding me one last meal and we made sure to exchange contact info. Mark had been looking around at my website and I had mentioned to him the work I do with the Sea School, thinking it would be right up his alley. Boy oh boy was I right. He was enchanted and I am hopeful we will get to welcome his enthusiasm, boat building ideas and experience working with youth to the South Shore. He was positively glowing from the potential.


As was I, as I slowly pedaled my way off towards New Brunswick, wondering if I'd get caught in the rain that was forecast. It didn't even matter....I had 60+ kms to digest everything I had learned and once again the astounding generosity of complete strangers who now felt like family.


What a life!


Take care everyone, wherever you are. I'll fill out the rest of this day on the next post :)

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