The Vanishing Stone

“ The universe moves ever forward, on and on. The Vanishing Stone brings it back around again.” The Wise One

The placing
The slender being looked around and smiled, seeing it was good. He was far from home but surrounded by an unparalleled natural splendor. The sky was azure, the moist air refreshing. Good country, this. A land worth surviving in. He observed the local fauna, busy at their daily tasks of acquiring nourishment. The being especially enjoyed watching the large bipedal predators. They appeared to be quite fierce and well adapted for killing. These beasts would make a good match for a Torka back home. If only one could be captured alive, the being mused. However, he was here on an important mission. Enough with interesting thoughts in this chaotic and virile environment. The WISE ONE had given him specific instructions and HIS words carried great weight. Best just to get on with the task at hand and reluctantly leave this place. The being leapt gracefully out of the large tree, making no sound at all. He moved with great stealth, attracting no undesired reptilian attention at all. As he approached the desired locale, the being felt the first pangs of remorse that always seemed to surface on missions

such as these. They had always told him that killing and death were merely parts of life but this did not make the sadness any more bearable. Such was his task, such was his burden. On with it then. Crouching low behind a large fern-like plant, the being reached into his small equipment pouch and produced a curious object. Now, in his delicate palm, was a brilliantly glowing sphere of deepest emerald. A faint humming accompanied the radiance emanating from the sphere. Deftly the slender one placed the sphere on the ancient soil and sat back to wait. It would not be long now. Several patient minutes passed and then there it was, a sound that had been described to him many times. A shrill, piercing cry that rose above the countless others. A hunting call perhaps, or, a warning? The being now drew another object from a sleek sheath on his back, a wickedly sharp blade of charcoal black. He was quite ready, as always. The sound drew closer, intense and perhaps even frightening. Movement in the bushes now, though barely detectable. This was a clever beast, a skilled hunter. As was the slender being. The stone remained in the center of the small clearing, the hum beckoning the creature to come closer. Suddenly, in a furious release of steel-strong muscles the creature burst into the clearing, prepared to claim yet another meal. Yet, puzzled now by the absence of promising fresh meat, the great beast hesitated. The slender being moved like liquid, before the creature used it’s keen senses to locate him. The charcoal blade of smooth sharp metal found the vital arteries in the creature’s neck and it was done. The being moved back to allow the death throes to run their course. Those were very sharp claws the creature possessed, no time for an injury now. Silence. The slender being retrieved the small sphere, undamaged by the fray. He took a moment to gaze at the creature, his fellow hunter. An imposing specimen though not in size. This was a hunter

of great magnitude and undoubtedly few prey could resist it thought the being. He would not have wanted to engage it in a fair match. No, not at all. The wicked talons on one toe of each foot could easily slice through both hide and armor. The thick muscles of the upper thigh had propelled the creature far through the air to deliver the killing blow. The rows of teeth in it’s mouth were serrated, recurved and meant for business. This environment had truly bred some formidable organisms thought the slender being. A welcoming fact to learn in this endless galaxy. And pleasing. The being extracted what appeared to be some kind of herb and spread it over the carcass. He raised his hands high and uttered some sounds in his own proclamation of the hunter over his prey. Reverence and respect was paid that day. Back to business. With the skill of some otherworldly surgeon the being quickly opened the beast’s skull in a swift motion. Grimacing he extracted the reptiles brain, the most powerful weapon in this beast’s arsenal. With great care the being took the emerald sphere and placed it firmly in the beast’s skull. The fit was immaculate, as predicted. The hum had now changed its pitch, a dull thrum. The glow remained. The being dug a worthy grave for the worthy beast. Covering the odd treasure, the being’s work was now done. How long would it take before the treasure was found once again. What would find it? The WISE ONE had guided him in this. HE must know what it was all about. So the being gazed around once more, drew a deep breath and disappeared into the underbrush. Time to go home.

Chapter One……Discovery
The Badlands. Stark, beautiful and …………..

“Holy shit Frank, you better get your ass over here and look at this!” I hollered over the bracing wind of that afternoon. “What now Mike, find yourself another piece of amber?” came Frank’s fourth skeptical reply of that day. “Nae laddie! You are not going to believe this one man. Come on!” I pleaded as I tried to solicit my friends help in identifying what I hoped was to be a grand dinosaur fossil discovery. It was the hottest day of the dig yet. And that summer was a scorcher. We were heading into the end of August, the time of truth in the dinosaur-digging business. The Badlands of Alberta were forgiving rarely and merciless consistently. And today proved the rule. As I swept the sweat from my brow and pleaded with Frank to come see what I prayed was what I hoped it was, a rare cool breeze was funnelling up the Red Deer River valley. A brief reprieve. And hopefully a discovery. We had been scouring this little patch of hell for the past few months as part of a contract for the local provincial museum. A small team; quick, efficient and passionate about what we were doing. Fossil hunting zealots that wouldn’t conform to the political rigors of life in a large museum, but happy to take their money nonetheless. We had already extracted the agreed upon partial ankylosaur skeleton and were spending the last few days looking for other beasties. Now it seemed I might just have had some luck finally. Usually keen-eyed Frank found all the goodies, like he had radar or something. Today was my day however. Little did I know. Frank ambled over the rough terrain separating us with ease. “All right Mikey-boy, watcha got?” “Well mate, I owe you a big-beer at the waterin’ hole if this ain’t some wrist material of a wee therapod.”

We had always been hoping to find rare fossils as we went about our duty to the big boys at the museum. Hardly ever happens but you never know. A new species perhaps, or at least more material to add to the growing body of knowledge. But soon we were going find something far more unique, unprecedented in human experience. “Let me see about that boy-o!” said Frank, having already found more of these critters in his lifetime than was fair. He knew what they looked like. “Christ man, you weren’t kiddin’ me this time. Thought the heat mighta got to you! But nope, looks like we may have a partial semiluminate carpal of perhaps Deinonychus. Shit man, way to go, we may be on to something here!” proclaimed Frank in honest excitement. “About time I came up with something eh? Rather than just being the bugger that carves these things outta the sandstone for you! This feels pretty good man.” I said somewhat victoriously. I had always prided myself as not so much as a digger but rather an “artist”, sculpting the fossils out of the rock. But now it might seem that I had found something special at last! We quickly set out upon devising a plan to extract this little predatory dinosaur, no room for mistakes here. Frank surveyed the sandstone slope that had served as sanctuary for the fossil for countless millennia, gauging and assessing what was going to be needed here. I took photos from every useful angle I could envision that we could study later on the computer. A couple of entries into the nifty little GPS unit helped mark the location as well. “It’s getting a little late in the afternoon to start a full scale extraction don’t you think?” I asked Frank after our discussion yielded the many hours of work ahead of us. “No doubt it is Mikey-boy. I hate to leave this baby here unattended for even one night with all the trouble lately. But we really should head home and plan properly for this I suppose.” admitted Frank reluctantly. Frank was referring to a problem occurring in the area

recently where “black-market” fossil hunters would find and steal fossils being excavated by legitimate agencies. One recent incident resulted in the vandals stealing several teeth from a rare specimen and adding further insult by smashing the valuable skull material with a rock hammer. This was poor behavior at its finest and an unwanted threat to our operations. “I may have a way to keep this little girl safely out of sight” I told Frank as an idea popped into my head. As I had only exposed a very small section of the fossil, my idea was to camouflage the find with the very sandstone I had discovered it in! I grabbed a few chunks of the sandstone and smashed it to small pieces and grains. I quickly whipped up a glue-like concoction with some of the acrylics we use to preserve the fossils. Covering the exposed wrist fossil with a generous amount of good ol’ fashioned toilet paper as a separating layer I then smeared the “fake” sandstone cap over the specimen. “What do you think?” I asked Frank with a satisfied grin. “Well Mikey”, mused Frank. “I think that it’s good to have an artsyfartsy along on any dig! That should do it. And nobody could possibly know we were here or what we have discovered, er, what you have discovered!” So with that we gathered our gear and headed out on our half hour hike up the 400 vertical feet of Horse Thief Canyon. A wonderful part of every day in the Canyon was the grueling hike out of it. It was a kind of daily rite-of-passage to make your way up and out of the tan, wind-swept landscape. My first impressions of this unique environment were formed early on in my life on a visit here as an over energized 8 year old. “I feel like I’m walking on Mars” I had told my very patient mother. 20-odd years later climbing out that day I still felt the same way. As you make your laborious ascent out of Horse-Thief you are rewarded along the way with breathtaking vistas, each one having it’s own impact as you gain altitude; none disappointing. And every corner you take yields a new marvel on a smaller scale as well. We had come to name the various rock formations and hoodoos we

came across every day and welcomed each one as being one step closer to a cool refreshing beer at the waterin’ hole. Hoodoos are especially fun formations as they take on the appearance of wise old hermits pondering away the fading light. As we rounded one familiar bend a favorite hoodoo of mine came into view. Tall, proud and steady I had named this 10-foot tall stone structure “The Wise One” for it seemed to be pondering the very nature of the universe. And this time, seeing that hoodoo gazing to the unknown, I recalled something from earlier that day. A faint humming came to my mind, was it when I had discovered the fossil? Or was it that beautiful cool breeze that came to visit so briefly? “Well Mikey, this daily hike surely helps us stay a little younger eh? Not to mention the fact that we pursue the same dreams now for real that we did as kids! And a cold beer at the end of the road don’t hurt none either” said Frank with a satisfied look on his face, bringing me out of my reverie. “Frank, as tired as this makes me each day with this god-damned pack you make me carry, it also makes me feel as if I could take on the world somehow. You don’t get this feeling commuting to work in tireless traffic each day in the city. Can you believe this splendor is our office?” was the best response I could muster. We were indeed lucky lads to have such a gig. And we reached the end of the trek with good feelings in our hearts. A sheer 80 vertical wall of soft rock that we had long ago cut crude steps into was our last obstacle, and provided the most amazing view of the Red Deer Valley that any photographer would pray for. Out we climbed and headed back toward town for that revered cold beer.

Chapter Two….Minimally Adapted
The very droplets of moisture running down the side of the colossal mug in front of me made me smile. The little ram-shackle office out of which we ran our humble business had as a feature it’s proximity

to “The Waterin’ Hole”. A very down to earth establishment short on creature comforts but boasting a liquid treasure locals had come to call The Big Beer. “Don’t drink that all in one place Mike!” said the waitress as she scurried off to tend to other thirsty patrons. I smiled again, hoisted the brew to meet Frank’s own raised mug and and said “Here’s to sedimentary rocks and the wonders they may contain!” “You got that right Mikey-boy. Good thing it seems to be a natural human behavior to want to dig in the dirt. From the sand box to the oil rigs, there we are digging away” said Frank and then took a long pull from the Big Beer. Another part of our daily routine out here in Canada’s scorching Badlands was the great philosophical discussions that arose from too many hours in the hot sun combined with too many mugs of cold ale. We were quite possibly half delusional at the end of each day but it sure made for some fun talk. “You know boys, I believe you started your little fossil enterprise as an excuse to avoid the real world with real jobs in suits and ties! Somehow you have convinced people to pay you to essentially dig in that sand box from your youth, albeit with a little more skill and precision” said a large fellow seated to Frank’s right. This was Eric, a gentle giant of a man that had wandered into our shop one rare rainy morning when no excursions were planned. At 6 foot 6, Eric’s stature belied his impassioned interest in the natural world and the fact that he was a professor at a small college in Oregon. Nearly a full foot taller than myself, I had looked up at him as he stooped to fit into the doorway and asked “Welcome to PaleoQuest, how may I help you sir?” He had been hanging around with us ever since. Eric was on sabbatical and genuinely loved what we were doing. He was willing to lend a hand with our daily grind in return for experiencing real fossil work and was developing quite an

eye as a fossil hunter in the process. I came to affectionately call him Eric the Well-Read. I pointed an accusing finger at him in mock confrontation “Indeed, and this would be the same reason you left your suit and tie back in Portland. Although I cannot imagine you ever being a “little” boy, I believe your heart also remains with your favorite plastic pail and shovel from youth!” As Eric laughed at that, Frank stood and signaled for another round, “OK, OK. That’s about enough about sand boxes. Sorry I brought it up. Remember my cat also digs in the sand box to cover its duty and my daughter finds that with her favorite plastic shovel!” Laughter rang out from the three of us as the relaxing effects of the cold beverages took hold. I looked around the place and felt that good feeling again. Modestly decorated, the Waterin’ Hole had large windows that offered a nice view of the Badlands in which the small city of Drumheller sits. The Badlands is a term for the area surrounding Drum and reflects the unique landscape that has been carved into Alberta’s rolling prairies by the Red Deer River. The play of light off the sandstone cliffs in the early morning or evening is magical. I lifted my mug in a silent toast. “Hey Glenn, over here” exclaimed Frank waving as he spotted a familiar face amongst the various groups of oil riggers and my attention was brought back to my table of friends. Now here was a lesson in contrast I thought to myself as our friend made his way over through what could safely be called the rabble. Dr. Glenn Stark was an academic born and bred and now waltzed comfortably past the sweat stained oil rig workers. He was the Curator of Paleontology at a large museum in the American Mid-West who had joined up with us to survey the Canyon for a potential future excavation. A marine reptile specialist he brought a wealth of knowledge to our evening discussions and didn’t mind having a Big Beer or two himself.

“Ahh, so what were you three so brilliantly discussing in my absence?” asked Glenn as he grabbed a seat next to me. “You happened to miss a very poignant talk concerning sand boxes!” I said with a little smirk. Glenn’s face lit up, “Excellent. I fondly remember my own sand box at home growing up. I one time thought I had made a major discovery and ran into the house with it to show my mother. Of course, she pointed out that it was a filthy cat turd and chased me out of the kitchen with it! Imagine that.” That evoked another round of laughter from all of us. Now that all of us were gathered together I gave Frank an inquisitive look, wondering if and when we should break the news of the discovery. We trusted our companions entirely and would need their help to successfully excavate the fossil. Frank, as the leader of our operation, took the hint and said “Listen up guys, we had a rather remarkable afternoon, me ‘n Mikey did. From first inspection it looks like Mikey here may have found some wrist material from a small therapod, possibly Deinonychus or the like. We didn’t get very far into it but the lay of the slope looked promising for more material. And if she is facing the right way in, we may have a crack at a skull.” Grinning happily, I pulled the camera out of my tattered field bag that I religiously took with me everywhere and handed it to Glenn, cueing it up to the photos of the fossil itself. With anticipation I watched as the Ph.D. looked over the photos. “Hmmm. Yes. You see the curve there, would be in the wrist, allowing great flexibility of that appendage. Unique among these therapods and indeed birds as well. Some use it as a strong chladistic argument of their possibly phylogeny, meaning of course, a possible relation or common ancestry between certain families of dinosaurs and birds. Excellent. Well done. I would like to help with the proceedings if I may!”

Well that helped confirm Frank’s assessment though I had been sure he was right and my excitement built. “Well that is a sweet thing. We have hopefully found ourselves a skeleton of one of Nature’s perfect little hunting machines. This will be the best excavation yet eh”, I said, my enthusiasm quite evident. “A fine hunter yes, Mike, perhaps one of nature’s finest. But not perfect. No, no.” said Glenn with his usual conviction. “What could you mean Glenn?” I exclaimed. “I can’t see describing those little dino’s as anything but perfect. I was reading the other night about various animals at various stages of geologic time and how they might seem ridiculous today but were perfectly adapted to their respective time and environment. Take that crazy shoveltusked, elephant-like gomphothere, he would look ridiculous in a San Diego zoo but he managed to do quite well for hundreds of thousands of years no?” “You must be more selective or more current in your readings Mike” Glenn fired back, building up some steam. ”Of course old gomphothere did well as you put it but it, as with all species, was only minimally adapted to its environment. It had the minimum biological hardware and behavior to accomplish its evolutionary imperative of deriving enough nourishment to reproduce.” “Excuse me Glenn, but are you saying then that, say, a lion is not a perfectly adapted hunter of the savannahs?” questioned a previously silent Eric. “Ah. Yes. An excellent example. A lion, formidably armed with muscle, claw, fang and behavior still selects the weak or young of the wildebeest herd to prey upon. This is sensible for the risks are thus far fewer to the hunter. The lion doesn’t need to pick out the toughest wildebeest in the herd and take it down to show off to the girls. Indeed the girls are doing the hunting anyway. The large 500 pound males grow large to fight of other males of their own kind. Again for reproductive reasons. And the herding behavior of the

wildebeests is their main weapon for reproductive success, not their horns. But, say the rains fail to come one year and the grasses grows poorly or not at all and the wildebeest and zebra herds take a different migratory path and then what do the lions do? Sure they hunt other game as well but let’s say that decades pass with their main food staple absent from their territory. Chances are the lions will adapt or relocate but can they do it fast enough and still produce enough healthy offspring as they compete with other prides? Too drastic an environmental change and the lion may have a problem regardless of its great skill at bringing down certain savannah ungulates. Do you see” asked Glenn as he took some time to pull on his ale. “Well let me ask you this then” exclaimed Frank pointing to a relic spear hanging on the wall, “What about Homo sapiens then? Are we minimally adapted too? I could name a few heads of state of powerful industrial nations that likely would disagree with that.” “Aha.” Glenn seemed ready for this reasonable argument. “ I admit that humans are indeed an anomaly in the grand scheme of nature. The reason for this is of course the development of culture for that is our greatest adaptation. But even culture allows the various walks of mankind to minimally adapt to their respective environments. We do the absolute minimum to sustain our settlements though it would seem otherwise. It would not take long for our weaknesses to become apparent if you disabled the power grid for the eastern seaboard of the U.S. for example. I hope that our biological drive to adaptively develop new cultures based upon new situations would ensure survival. I suspect it has in the past.” “Well I still think that our little fossilized hunter is perfect, the perfect fossil at any rate” I proposed to soften our debate a little. “Mike, I think that your discovery today will cap off an exceptional summer for all of us” offered Eric with his usual well-placed concern for others. “We should focus on figuring out the best way to learn a

little more about this spectacular little beast that has so graciously presented itself to us.” “Cheers to that” added Frank as we all finished off the last of our Big Beers. With bellies and minds full of ales and our unique bar-room discourse we headed over to the shop to plan our strategy for the coming work. And as we walked out into the fading twilight of another late summer day in the Badlands, I found myself wondering about what Glenn had said; are we humans also minimally adapted for life on earth?

Chapter Three…… The Shop

The Shop. Headquarters for our little business venture. It was a small little section of an old Drumheller building that had been converted into a odd collection of shops intended to lure the multitude of tourists that visited each summer. T-Rex Music was among my favorites and there was a little art store in there as well. Paleo-Quest, our fossil excavation and retrieval operation, had been formed a few years earlier by Frank, myself and Dr. George Larimie. George was perhaps the most personable academic I had ever met. He was down-right fun to be around most would say. He was both mentor and friend to Frank and I and had taught us everything we knew about geology and how to run a dig. George had been a mammal guy and studied the saber-toothed cats of the southern states but had a soft spot for dinosaurs as well. George had passed away the previous year and Frank and I had sworn to keep our little business going as long as we could. Paleo-Quest derived its primary income from contracts granted by larger North American museums to excavate fossils for research and display. The Badlands of Alberta are arguably one of the richest fossil localities in the world. Frank and I would locate potential specimens and organize excavations with prospective and interested facilities. We worked closely with the provincial museum here in Drum and were careful to not tread on any toes. That was Frank’s department; negotiating the complex rules and regulations concerning fossil excavation here in Alberta. Since we were based out of Drum and knew the region well, we could direct and assist our client museums’ excavations and save them a great deal of expenses in the process. It costs a lot of money to put a crew in the field 500 miles from home. But to us, Drum was home. So we were able to make a modest living doing what we loved best, digging in the sand. Frank unlocked the door and we stepped into the slightly musty smelling room inside. “Let’s have a better look at those photo’s Mike. I want to have a better look at the slope and the general lay of the

land around the beastie” said Frank as we moved towards our rather out of date computer. I handed Frank the camera and crossed the open space of the shop and approached the little work space I called my own. The old bankers desk was a messy affair with drawings, art supplies and large mounds of modeling clay competing for space and attention. Several small dinosaur figurines I had sculpted on those rainy days crowded a little shelf overhead. I took the little velociraptor figure in my hand and thought about the coming excavation with anticipation while the others began looking at the photos. Placing the figure back with its companions I then grabbed a lump of clay and began fashioning a small model of the area where we had found the fossil. I have a pretty good memory and after a few minutes I had a workable representation of the locale. Frank printed out a good shot of the site and came over to my work station, the others in tow. “Hey that’s a fair mock-up of the site, Mike. Let’s see if we can plan the first days work. What we’ll need to do first is to remove this part of the slope above the critter here” and with that Frank used his ever present Bowie knife to remove a portion of the top of my model. “Great. What took you two seconds to do here will take four hours to do out there” I remarked. “What, you’re not going to let a little concrete-like sandstone get in between you and your prize are you Mikey” challenged Frank? Frank and I had known each other for over ten years, having met on one of Dr Larimie’s first digs out in Drumheller back in the early 90’s. He was a bit of a conundrum himself. No-nonsense and oil-rig tough, Frank relentlessly pursued his passion for all things fossilized. He had amassed a collection of literature that any professor would envy and had likely read all of it too. He possessed the keenest eye I had ever seen and loved to scour the Badlands for hours and days on end. That combination of skill and determination helped contribute to his great success in finding new discoveries with an almost clock-like

consistency. Some amongst the local museum crowd called him a lucky maverick but I suspect that was just their envy of his natural gift speaking. “True enough. A bit of pick-axing in the morning is always a delight” I suggested sheepishly. Actually I rather enjoyed the strenuous manual work that accompanies any excavation. Good, honest work your grandfather might be proud of if you could explain to him exactly why you were digging up apparently useless rocks. Helped keep a fellow fit as well. Indeed, having just turned 30 I may have been in the best shape of my life. The daily hikes in and out of the Canyon over the weeks had built up my stamina nearly to my old hockey-playing days on the frozen sloughs of Manitoba. “Don’t worry Mike, you’ll have help in this endeavor. Let’s gather up what we’ll need for the morning” offered Eric, ever thoughtful and practical. He could move a lot of earth when he set his mind to it but Eric much preferred entering detailed notes in his field book and studying maps. After 20 minutes of shuffling about the shop we believed we had assembled the required supplies for the next day’s work. Over the past few days we had gradually been bringing a bulk of our field gear back to the shop as fall approached so we were quite selective with our choices: a bag of plaster, rolls of burlap, picks, shovels and that precious and heaviest of commodities; water. Frank looked over the assembled pile and said “Well, that should get us started. Let’s meet back here at the shop at 7 AM sharp and we can load up the ol’ wagon in the morning. I’m bushed so let’s call her a night folks.” So we headed out into the still night and made for our respective places of rest. Frank had a house and family here in Drum and Eric was renting a small suite for his two month summer stint. Glenn’s museum had put him up in the posh Jurassic Inn for his few weeks in Alberta and I called a friend’s refurbished garage home. I hopped on to my well-used mountain bike and figured that a small boot around

town would help clear my head. “Rest well lads, I’ll see you upon the morrow” I said as I sped off into the night. The streets were deserted as I made my way down to the path by the river and the cool night air felt refreshing after the day’s heat. Tomorrow was going to be a great day and I thought it just might be the best fossil I’d worked on yet. But for now I emptied my head of the many details involved in the work ahead and just rode. I had no way of knowing it was to be the last ride for a long, long time.

Chapter Four……Descent into the Canyon

Dawn in the Badlands. The customary stunning view of Horse Thief Canyon was……gone. Seemingly due to an unusual combination of high humidity and cool air, a thick blanket of fog had crept into the Red Deer Valley that morning. It looked like you could just walk out off the edge of the cliff face and make your way over across the valley. “Now that’s odd” Glenn was the first to break our perplexed silence. “Seems someone has taken our canyon away!” “Have you ever seen anything like that before Frank” queried Eric. “I have never associated fog with the Badlands before” “I’ve seen fog here before in the spring but not a thick bank like that. I half expect to hear a foghorn from a tugboat or something” exclaimed a bewildered Frank. “Going to be an interesting hike down I suspect.” “Be kinda cool if we had hang-gliding equipment” I suggested. “I’d love to soar out over that eerie silence” “Picks, shovels and 40 pounds of water don’t lend themselves well to hang-gliding Mike” pointed out Frank. “Sorry to spoil your fun. Well let’s saddle up this gear and see if we can actually get down to the site.” “Right then, down we go” added Glenn for good measure. The trek down that first 80 feet is challenging enough under ideal conditions, especially with a 50 pound backpack as a convenient counterweight. This abnormal fog would not only impede our sight but likely make each step slippery. The Canyon was essentially a layer-cake of varying deposits of sedimentary rock laid down some 80 million years ago during the last great days of the dinosaurs. Tan sandstones, grey mudstones, rusty ironstones and pale grey bentonite alternated in a colorful sequence that leant to the distinctive beauty of the place. Bentonite, essentially formed from

volcanic ash, becomes a hellish olive-drab vaseline-like affair when wet as was the case now. We were going to have to be cautious. We hefted our respective burdens and Frank led the way down as usual. Sensing a Kodak-moment I quickly grabbed the camera and took a snap as his lower half disappeared into the fog. This was going to be a strange day it seemed. Glenn and Eric followed next and then I took up the rear, our typical arrangement. Even sounds seemed somewhat stifled with the thick fog. I could barely hear Frank’s occasional curses down below me or even the squishing of Eric’s footfalls directly ahead of me. A little disconcerting indeed. “Frank, what’s your report from down ahead? You know we could just hang out a bit and wait for the sun to burn this stuff off” I called out somewhat anxiously. “I think we’ll be OK once we’ve gotten down this first bit so be careful and there’s no rush. We’ll reconvene when we’re done with these steps. All right with everyone” Frank’s reassuring voice suggested from somewhere down below. “Roger that” I somewhat reluctantly agreed. I was carrying the water of course. As I weigh only 160 pounds soaking wet, the load I carried equaled almost a third of my weight. One false move on my part and I’d go down, taking Eric the Giant down with me in the process no doubt. I was not about to let that happen. Several minutes and a few close calls later we had regrouped on the relatively level sandstone terrace that offered more secure footing. “OK. So far so good. Only a kilometer or so to go” said Frank. “And hopefully the sun will clear this up a bit like Mike suggested.” The four of us continued our way down the winding path that would lead us eventually to our discovery. The going was much slower than normal, of course, so I decided to strike up small talk with Eric a little ahead of me.

“You know Eric, you are pretty nimble for a large fellow” I offered as an opening. “You move around these hills with, I dare say, some grace, even in this blasted fog.” “Why thank you for noticing Mike” replied a pleased sounding Eric. “I have done my share of hiking over the years. The area around Portland is full of great trails and splendid scenery, though nothing there directly compares to the distinctive beauty of these Badlands. I long ago decided I would try to remain active and escaping to the outdoors was the way I chose to accomplish this. So you see coming across you guys has been a stroke of good fortune for me indeed!” “For us as well my friend” I agreed. “Say, I’ve been meaning to ask you more about that sea-kayaking you’ve done out on the Puget. That must be a truly wonderful experience to be at one with the sea like that and perhaps a little scary too, no?” “Ah, Mikey-boy, you have not truly lived until you’ve paddled for a few hours alone on the ocean. Of all the wonders and mysteries of this world, the ocean has to be the greatest. Just to be a visitor on the surface with only your strength and skill to rely on is quite a feeling. No motors, no mechanical noise…. no sound at all save for the delicate swish of your paddle strokes as you glide along. And you startle far fewer creatures that way so are rewarded with great opportunities to see wildlife. I have seen sea lions, sea otters and yes even whales from not too great a distance. A marvel indeed.” “That sounds great Eric” I said honestly. “One day I’m going to come out to the coast and visit you and force you to take me out with you.” “It would be my pleasure to introduce you to…..” “Aw shit” came an exasperated voice from further ahead. Frank had taken a bit of stumble it would seem. Frank never stumbled, not once in the five years we had been working these cliffs had I seen him even momentarily lose his balance. “Damn iron-stone pebbles. Didn’t

see them because of the fog so be careful around here” he warned. The iron-stone deposits, or siderite, eroded into small jagged pebbles that actually helped one’s traction on a dry day but became treacherous when combined with wet bentonite. “Thanks for the heads-up” I yelled. “You Okay fearless leader?” “Yeah, yeah. Just pissed off for the moment” exclaimed Frank. “Just happens to be the spot with that convenient drop off too.” As we made our way further into the canyon I decided to leave the remainder of the kayaking conversation for when we reached the site. With each deliberate footfall I started losing myself in my own thoughts. The excitement of the upcoming excavation and the foreboding fog had my mind racing. What if this little fossilized creature just happened to be a new species? What if Paleo Quest could help author a paper on the beast? What if….. wait a minute; the familiar but peculiarly altered silhouette of “The Wise One” came into my view. The fog had done nothing but add to its already otherworldly appearance but there was more. It seemed almost as if there was the palest green glow around the thing. Impossible, it must be a trick of the light, maybe reflecting off the greenish bentonite or something. I tried to focus on it more clearly but then the glow was gone. I shook my head and turned my attention back to the trail ahead of me. “Eric” I dared to ask, “you didn’t notice anything weird about that last hoodoo did you?” “Mike I can barely see Glenn 6 feet in front of me” replied Eric. “Mayhap one too many big beers last night got you feeling green this morning?” “Heh, heh. That must be it” I responded unconvincingly. This day just kept getting stranger and it was barely eight in the morning. I was starting to wish this fog had never come our way for we would likely already be at the site.

We continued on nonetheless, all of us eager to set up our equipment and begin the work ahead. But I still couldn’t get that weird glow out of my head.

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