Monday, June 1, 2009

fishing for yari at joggins

i had booked another night in the yaris hilton and was looking for a place to park my motel as dusk descended on joggins. i found a little road off a little road, leading to a beautiful gap in the famed fossil cliffs right on the beach. i navigated my hatchback down the incline, dimly noting the white mesh on the ground. i imagined my car would easily clear it.

it did not.

by the time i reached the bottom of the short hill, horrible scrapping noises were emerging from my car's underbelly. i got out on a chilly, darkening night to investigate: fish net. on dry land. clinging to every part of my yaris. i circumnavigated the vehicle, cursing the inexplicable fisherman and his errant net. i got on my back and crawled under - many minutes of slow unpicking followed, followed by me moving the car, followed by more delicate unpicking. i expected the rowdy sealadies of the body spray commercials to emerge from the bay of fundy, to pull on the net with strong arms, dragging me and my yaris to a pleasant death.

by sunrise, the net was gone, as mysterious in its passing as in its coming.

to the cliffs: joggins is one of the great treasures of nova scotia, a natural temple to science. you walk the beach and see the raw evidence of an aged, evolving world at your feet. fossils of our ancient ancestors fall out of the cliffs with every tide, laying scattered on the beach.

my guide, brian hebert, told me he gets several creationists visiting every year. why is unclear, but these believers in a young earth readily accuse him of personally faking the whole thing: of carving the fossils and hiding them in the cliffs and then finding them.

but one woman, raised in such a world, broke free after the beach tour and demanded of him: 'tell me everything you know of evolution.'

brian did, over two hours, but frequently had to stop to let her sobbing die down. when he was done, she looked him deep in the eyes and said: 'thank you.'

raised in an insular world, she had never been allowed to hear the clear view of natural explanations of life. it was, for her, an immense breakthrough.

i also met this old man on the beaches of joggins: don reid.

he's 87 today; he started beach-combing for fossils as a boy because the patterns were so pretty. he dropped out of school in grade 6 to work the coal mines and never went back; today, he's a gentle master of 300 million years of history. most of the fabulous fossils in the superb centre were found by him. 300 million years ago, nova scotia was a jungle in the middle of pangea, the supercontinent that once held the earth's entire landmass. it has drifted far away from its old neighbourhood - nova scotia once touched northern africa and western europe - but the secrets of long history are still within its dirty banks. another 70,000 years or so of erosion should reveal them.

don's happy to wait.


  1. Exellent yarn. Fishermen regularly spead net out to dry them, or something. - Dave R

  2. ah - that would explain it. he's probably still complaining about the cidiot who wrecked his net.