Cara Ellen Modisett
“I just love this story!” Elizabeth Hunter told me back in December.
She proceeded to read probably half of it to me over the phone, taking me with her to Gray, Tennessee and the fossil site there, the story which you’ll read complete in this issue, bursting with excitement over the story, over the fossils, over the people she met, over the fact that the preservation of the Gray Fossil Site – unlike any other fossil dig in the world – was the result of “just a lot of good synchronicity and some good decisions made every once in a while.”
A roadbuilding crew, an alligator skull, a forward-thinking governor, a nearby university, dozens of passionate volunteers. Five-million-year-old fossils – complete skeletons not found anywhere else – all preserved in unusually moist Tennessee clay, discovered by chance, preserved by design.
“And we’re going to find out a whole lot about the world because of it!” said Elizabeth.
I, for one, didn’t know alligators once lived in Tennessee, in what was once a warmer climate. Elizabeth painted the picture for me, of a lake long gone, tapirs visiting for a drink, turtles sunning themselves on logs – painted, box and snapping, just like the ones we see in the woods today. “Turtles haven’t changed much,” she told me.
COINCIDENCE and happenstance play wonderful roles in writers’ lives. The great interview we happen upon bumping into a stranger in a shop or on the trail, the little café or museum or bluegrass band we come across unexpectedly in our travels, the wrong turn that takes us someplace even more fascinating than where we thought we were going.
But the coincidence is merely the beginning – as Elizabeth points out, it’s the decisions that get us where we’re going, whether it’s a great story, or the preservation of a pocket of prehistory in eastern Tennessee. It’s recognizing the potential, the significance of a place or a person or a conversation. In each place, with each person, through each conversation, we “find out a whole lot about the world because of it.”
From Civil War town to Appalachian Trail, from a windy mountaintop in North Carolina to the views that don’t reach quite as far they used to in Shenandoah National Park, from the paleontology at Gray Fossil Site to the archaeology at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, join us for this issue’s journeys and the twists and turns they follow... while we learn a little more about the world, or our corner of it.
(From the March/April 2009 issue)