On Easter Monday I decided to follow the simple routine I’d developed in Bali and get out of the house. Taking a break for a couple of hours, seeing new sights and leaving the computer behind helped ‘refill my well’ and balance my energy.
So I hopped in the car, without a destination in mind, except to head west. I drove through farmlands, past green rolling hills, eucalyptus forest and dilapidated corrugated iron sheds.
Half an hour later I came to a very small town and pulled into the rest stop. On the way to the bathroom I passed an old man sitting alone at a picnic table.
“Hello” I said. He frowned.
“You can have this table if you like, I’m just sitting here.”
“No, no, it’s ok. I’m just going to the loo.” Perhaps he’s homeless, I thought.
“Is that a river down there?” I asked on my way back, pointing to the dense line of trees. I wanted to engage him in some chit-chat and perhaps brighten up his Easter Monday.
“A river? Yes there’s a river. In February it flooded twice. The water came up to here,” he said, pointing at the base of the trees. “I was here and helped clean out the swimming pool. I caught three Murray cod and two salamander,” he was looking at me wide-eyed.
I laughed. “Really? Wow. What are salamander again?”
“Salamander have very large scales. Any fish with large scales are ancient. It’s been around since before the dinosaurs. Fish with small scales are more recent. Do you know much about elephants?” he asked.
“No, not really,” I said, unsure how we came to this topic.
“Well, African elephants aren’t really elephants at all. Where as Asian elephants…” He was enthusiastically telling me about their Latin names, the number of their toenails and the size of the humps on their backs, but my stomach was rumbling. I interrupted and said I’d grab my lunch and join him. I skipped off to my car, happy to chat with someone who’d obviously thought about and studied the natural world in a way I hadn’t.
“Are you from Brisbane?” he asked as I settled on the bench seat opposite.
“No, I’m from just over the range” I said. “But I go to Brisbane quite a lot.”
“Well, next time you’re there, when you walk through you’ll see whales hanging from the ceiling, then turn left.” I did some mental acrobatics and realised we were talking about the museum.
“You’ll see a big dinosaur. Go down the escalator, and on the right you’ll see a long case, with a smaller dinosaur called Minmi. The sign says they dug her up in 1964 out at Minmi Crossing of Bungle Creek, in Roma. Have you been to Roma?”
“I’m not sure. A long time ago I think maybe,” I said.
“Well, it’s all red dirt out there. It was once a massive salt lake. The iron in your car will eventually rust because of salt,” he said, motioning to my car. “Anyway, I was out there in 2004, forty years later, standing in the exact spot where they dug up Minmi. And I was just standing there, looking at the river bed, when something caught my eye. Because it’s red dirt everywhere. You see, they said Minmi was caught in a flood and drowned. But that’s not what really happened. That poor dinosaur just had a bad case of being in wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Something came out of space, blew her leg off and killed her right there.” He looked delighted.
Is he talking about aliens? I thought. Well, this is more interesting than sitting at home on the computer.
“All the dirt was red, right? Well, I saw this rock that stood out like the proverbial dog’s balls. A rock from outer space.”
“Like a meteorite?” I asked, kind of relieved we weren’t going down the alien path, although no doubt that would have been interesting too.
“Yes, like a meteorite. There are three types of meteorites, and then there are tektites.” He explained the differences of each. I felt a bit like I was back in grade six science class.
“I’ve got it in my van,” he said. “Take it everywhere I go. Would you like to see it? If you’ve got a minute?”
I said I’d love to have a look.
We walked across the road to his van and I poked my head in the side-door. I said I wanted to get something like this, to go traveling in. Then, out of an old bum-bag, he pulled the most unusual, beautiful rock I could have imagined and put it in my hand. It was blue-black and looked like a mixture of glass and stone with gold looking veins. It certainly looked like something from Star Trek.
“So, you think it hit Minmi?” I asked, uncertain how he could be so sure of something that occurred millions of years ago. I rolled it around my palm, watching the sunlight glint off its surface. “Is her leg missing?”
“Yes, go and see her in the museum. And turn it around. See that there? It’s got part of her in it. A spot of her blood.” I could see a small red splash suspended in a transparent layer of the rock.
“See, when it comes burning through the atmosphere, it’s very hot. It’s melting the stone. And that makes it smooth, and that flat spot, is where they tried to grind it back to test the blood. That’s the result of fifteen minutes of grinding.”
I could see a very small area, smaller than my little fingernail had been flattened by a machine.
“That other spot,” he said, turning it around for me, “that there is where they ground it for half an hour. It broke the blades. The blades were smoking. It’s harder than any metal. And see here, that’s where it broke in half when it hit her.” One side was obviously more jagged than the rest.
“Wow.” That’s all I said for a while. “Wow.”
It felt so foreign to be holding something from outer space. Like I could fall into a whole other wold, but it had fallen into ours. Like all those things you read about and hear about and see where true. They’re not just science fiction. Some of them are science fact. We really are just a small planet, in a massive, massive galaxy and universe.
When I was at school we had a marble craze. I loved playing with and collecting them. Some of my favourites were the ones called ‘galaxies’ and they indeed looked a lot like this tektite I was holding. Except this wasn’t made in a factory, it was from a completely different planet and millions of years old.
My mind couldn’t contain it.
“I’ll tell you something else about it, when you’re finished looking,” he said.
As for dinosaurs, I’d visited the New York Natural History Museum and seen all the amazing skeletons; the tall ones and the short ones, the flying ones and the ones with frills around their necks. But I heard they were replicas because the real skeletons where safely locked away. There were ropes partitioning me off from them, or glass, and lots of crowds. Instead of fully feeling the experience and absorbing the reality of these magnificent animals that existed millions of years ago, I’d simply thought, My friend’s son, Levi, would love this.
I took a lot of photos of the tektite and handed it back to him.
“The Smithsonian Institute valued it at one and a half million dollars,” he said after he’d put it safely back in his bum-bag. “And the museum wants it.”
But he won’t give it to them because, and this is another great story, one day his grandson asked if he’d ever seen a dinosaur. “No, they died out just before I was born,” he jested. But then, he said, he remembered his dad showing him where he’d found a dinosaur skeleton. He’d forgotten about it until his grandson asked.
So he rang the museum and told them where it was, on the condition they’d name it after his grandson. They agreed. But they named it after the place they found it instead. So he has a vendetta with the Brisbane museum and won’t give them his rock.
His grand kids told him to keep it instead, as a family heirloom.
As I was saying goodbye he said “So, how does it feel to have held something worth one and a half million dollars in your hand?”
“Pretty amazing,” I said, “but I enjoyed talking with you just as much.”
“Don’t forget the elephants. How they are not really elephants. The kids will like that,” he said.
Driving home, the same rolling hills and corrugated iron sheds looked different. Time extended through a much larger continuum, and space extended much further out, than my personal concepts had ever held before.
I looked at the hills and wondered how old they really were. I looked at the iron sheds and thought how they would continue to rust and turn to dust. I thought about how the earth has supported so many species, plants and animals for eons. I thought about our messed up farming system and pondered how a meteorite could knock us all out in an instant. I wondered if I could out-run one if it was hurtling towards my car.
My life, and the time in which it unfolds, felt more finite, yet more expansive, more and less important all at once.
It was lovely.
When I told my brother this story he grinned and said “I just love that somewhere out there is a man driving around with a rock worth one and a half million dollars in his bum-bag, going fishing.”
I love that too.
In celebration of this incredible story about nature, the cosmos and the valuable experiences of our older generations AND my desire to help create magical experiences in nature, I’m giving away two Sprout ‘Rest Stop Visits’ and garden design consultations to two of YOU! (Don’t worry, I won’t camp on your lawn ~ it’s just for an afternoon visit!)
If you live between Brisbane and Melbourne and would love to have me come over to help you design your garden and create an abundant garden at your place, I’ll come to your home and help you do it.
For your chance to be the recipient of this giveaway, simply tell me why you want this or need this and what town you live in, in the comments below or on facebook (or both). The two winners will be announced via my newsletter Sprout next week, so be sure you are already on it.
The more people who know about this, the better. So I encourage you to please share this with your community of friends. Tweet it. Facebook it. Share it.