Destination = Drumheller, Alberta, Canada -
Of all things to think on whilst contemplating the approaching Pisces full moon, and the great oceans of the world, I come to rest on memories of Drumheller, in the Badlands of Alberta, Canada.
There, in dry canyons and vast rocky expanses, are dinosaur bones. Can-Indian myth talks of great creatures being dashed to the ground after violent thunderstorms – Thunder Lizards. The bones were exposed after lightning strikes and dirt washed away in flash floods.
This area was once ocean. I think of the huge crocodilians swimming the warm sea, and reptiles striding the shores. I think of them dying and their remains sinking down into layers of sediment, of them hardening to stone and lying in wait for eager palaeontologists to find them. Dinosaur soup turned into stew, and then a solid mass.
Drumheller is pale rock, variegated through layers, like a rainbow of browns, with black coal seams. It is barren, and hoodoos stand tall – vertical columns of soft sandstone exposed by erosion, and shaped by weather. Some are almost alien and impossible in appearance. How do they endure with most of their middle scraped away? Are our human architects simply too conservative in what they think will stand?
Drive out from Calgary 138km, and see weathered, tatty dinosaur statues in Dinosaur Provincial Park. A concrete blue generic dinosaur with a few faded flowers on its rump sits in a hard-ground playground. On a nice day, a good enough place to sit down on the grass, lean my back up against its warm leg, and eat my lunch. It is not in the slightest bit interested in my squashy cheese sandwich. When I drink my cold bottle of water, cops in a passing car eye me up. Am I a homeless person of interest? No. Just another damned dinosaur freak tourist. As an Aussie, I may be the only person within some miles who doesn’t wear a cowboy hat.
Onwards another 4km to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, sitting in the middle of a moonscape of tan rock, so faded to my eyes after a lifetime of Australian red. In summer, the sun beats down and the brown and black strata seem to pulse with heat, pushing me back out of the area. Shamans of local tribes still journey into this area to perform rituals. This is a place of stillness, and power, a harking back to when mighty things ruled the world.
There are signs asking visitors not to wander off the marked paths. It’s easy to get lost out here. There’s a reason the Badlands are Bad. Outlooks have viewfinders where you can see the canyon walls in close up. Seams of coal smudge the rock, and rain has leaked dirty black tears down, as though the earth is weeping for the loss of Her first experiments’ bones.
I look at the canyons and beg: “Just let me see one undiscovered bone. Just one.” My childhood dream job was palaeontologist. I dug up my parents’ back yard many times. I was thrilled to find a bone. Mum forebore to tell me they used to have a dog who buried bones. I phoned Melbourne Museum. I was ten.
The Museum is a wonderland of dinosaur bones, dinosaur models, and the world’s largest ammolite. It’s larger than a hubcap. Now, I love ammolite, and I love ammonite (just see the cover of my second book of poetry PALAEONTOLOGY FOR BEGINNERS). I love jewellery. I’m a big old crystal-wearing witch. But even I can’t come at wearing this monster around my neck on a chain. I’d look like Homer Simpson dragging the Stone of Shame.
There is the shin bone of a Tyrannosaur. I stand next to it. It’s wider than me, and twice as high. Even though I’ve seen loads of dinosaur models before, I really get it this time. They were big.
My new husband and I are on a belated honeymoon of a twelve week trip around the USA and Canada. In our holiday snaps, we look our happiest hugging in front of a dinosaur skeleton. Two nerdy geeks in their element.
The Museum leads visitors through the various ages of the Earth, and I delight in each section, seeing evolution at work, and the weird stuff nature has produced over the eons.
I go back to the ammolite. A shelled creature turned opalescent by the ocean. That’s what I’d like to have happen to me when I die. To sink down into sediment and be found sixty five million years later as opal, as multi-coloured as my mind and soul, washed clean and ready to be in the world again.
Photo: Toothy Types - Drumheller, Alberta Badlands, Canada _ Helen Patrice