Sunday, March 04, 2007
The Petrified Forest
I've wanted to visit the petrified forest for as long as I can remember. My grandfather kept a chunk of petrified wood on his desk until he died, and my grandmother kept it there afterwards. To give that some context, these were people who travelled all over the world, lived in India, Ethiopia, climbed the pyramids, rowed their VW bug across the Nile on a raft of sticks. They had seen many, many corners of the world, but the petrified forest always fascinated them, and so it fascinated me.
I always pictured the petrified forest as something that stood tall, perhaps like the great redwoods, frozen for eternity, but it's not that way at all. The trees date back to the triassic era, the time of Pangea, when all the continents were one large landmass. At that time, Arizona was actually a tropical swamp with 200 foot trees and alligator-like creatures. Those mammoth trees fell to the ground and were carried downstream until they reached a large open area where they came to rest and, instead of rotting, began to absorb mineral-rich water, flavored with volcanic ash. .
The trees were trapped under layers of sediment and hidden for millions of years. As North America shifted away from the other continents, her climate began to change and Arizona dried up. Over millennia, torrential desert rains eroded the sediments and the layers of volcanic ash, revealing the now-petrified trunks. As the ground beneath them washed away, the trees rolled down the sides of the crumbling mountains.
The area is both beautiful to look at and awe inspiring to contemplate. That such amazing and varied natural forces combined over millions of years to make a common thing, whose properties we have always taken for granted (i.e. wood is a relatively soft, saw-down-able thing), and turn that knowledge on its head...that wood could bejewel itself into stunning blues, oranges, purples, silvers and yellows...that these treasures could wait patiently for millions of years to make their debut...
Well, I find it all very mind-numbing. But I do have this illogical tendency toward mysticism where nature is concerned. And I am very much a "green" advocate...but something about seeing the grand scale of climate change that has always affected our planet was reassuring. The earth is a closed system--a giant organism, if you will, and I do believe that if we give her just a bit more help in terms of greenhouse gasses, pollution, etc, she will adapt. And humans will survive--or not--but Mother Earth will survive and continue her mysterious ways, regardless.