To be honest I am not one for meditation. I find being still rather physically uncomfortable so have always been put off the practice. But I hear the benefits from the many friends who do – and have occasionally found myself in that ‘thoughtless’ state that is such a delight. When I was out at sea in looking for dolphins with the CRRU I found myself melting into the act of observation, lulled by the rocking movement and driven by the single-minded focus of looking for the change in the sea that signalled an animal.
I was reminded of that yesterday, but in a different setting. Walking along the beach at Charmouth, on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset – head down, looking for fossils. My children had been briefly engaged, but had vanished off into their own world of fantasy. I was in a place of peace. The sun warmed the air as it shifted with just enough vigour to remove cobwebs. The sea filled the space with the perfectly soothing organic white noise of waves on shingle. And my eyes were drawn to the ground.
The chaos of stones, lentil to cricket ball in size, varied beyond count in denomination – hid treasure. I have always had a passion for finding fossils. I am no expert – my passion has not shifted into detailed research, I just love the hunt. My parents had a new load of gravel added to their drive when I was young – and I was transfixed by the broken memories the stone contained. Imprints of shells – probably winkle-like animals – could be found if you looked hard enough.
I have never got into smashing up rocks in the hope of finding something amazing inside – I prefer to just look – to rely upon chance. That is how I found the best fossil – an ammonite, as most are on Charmouth. Early one morning – when the children were much smaller and prone to a lack of sensitivity when it came to adults’ need for sleep – I left them with my wife at her mother’s house and headed to the beach, just as the tide turned. Ahead of me were the professionals, head to toe in water proofs, armed with hammers, spades and buckets. I just had a tweed jacket and my eyes.
At first I thought it was a footprint from one of their boots, but the rhythm was not quite right so I stopped, looked and almost walked on – but hesitated, and found it to be the ridges of the most amazing fossil I have ever held. For the first time in around 190 million years this creature was back out in the world, pulled from a clay tomb.
Yesterday my finds were less remarkable but no less appealing – a belemnite and a pack of pyritised ammonites, alongside the smooth touchstones that help keep me sane, and it was the most relaxing time.
I returned to the melee of half-term better equipped, calmer and happier. So my message, go find a beach and spend a hour or so being washed by the waves of noise while searching for that subtle shift in rhythm that might just mark out some treasure.