I arrived at the beach in the pelting rain- oh, the joys of the British summer! I asked a passing local if I should turn left or right on the beach for the best finds. She said right which I did picking my way along the beach which is essentially a quarry of medium to large rocks forced out of their dormancy from the overhanging cliffs by rain. Heavy downpours soak into the cliff making it fall apart literally and as the cliff disintegrates, the fossils are loosened from their resting places. I was lucky- we had experienced a terrific storm the night before replete with thunder and lightning. I hoped I was going to get lucky.
Indeed I was one of the first few hunters on the beach which stretched for two miles or so before me. I rubbed my hands with glee. Off I went bent over peering earnestly at my feet. I quickly learned not to touch the crumbling cliff face as the disintegrating rock is tar-like and sticks to your hands like glue. Gloves would be the order of the day but I had none. Instead I would have to find fossils amongst the rocks on the beach. I kept going. One of the attributes you acquire living on your own is amazing concentration. Used to my own company I can literally go for hours on end on a single task like painting or writing. So bending over relentlessly scouring the rocks for something out of place was easy.
And here's what else I did- I meditated. I emptied my head of the figurative rocks in my brain and blocked out the ancillary noise- the sound of people's voices, even the crashing of the waves a few feet from me. I got to the point where there was nothing in my head at all just a silence punctuated by a sensation that I should stop and look near my feet and not move. That's what I did. The sensation grew stronger. I did not veer even one inch away from where I was standing but concentrated all my energy into examining the rocks as intently as possible. Suddenly I felt that I should bend down even closer which I did and that again, I should not move. I did what I was being propelled to do. And there it was. I picked it up not knowing what it was but sensing it was incredible.
There was a further strong feeling that I should stop searching as to want more than one prize would be greedy. I turned around and retraced my footsteps away from beach.
By now in need of some sustenance I headed off to the nearby restaurant where a surplus of customers meant that we had to share tables. As I sat down I examined my finds. The gentleman at the same table who was in an amorous clinch with his girlfriend looked up. 'Very impressive,' he smiled, at the fossil not me, unfortunately. Turns out he was a palaeontologist on holiday with his new girlfriend and he knew just about everything on fossils and dinosaurs. He confirmed I had struck very, very lucky indeed for a complete novice with no knowledge or experience.
Later on the local museum re-iterated the same thing: my ammonite (an ancient type of squid) was rare and wonderful.
The sensation of our temporary passage on this earth is made all the more profound while standing in the rain holding a 190 million year old fossil.
So there you have it: when we abandon our will sometimes great things want to find us. Neither is this the first time where coincidence after coincidence has guided me towards something.
If I could, I would spend the rest of my life down on Charmouth Beach which has to be one of the best experiences ever of my life.
My ammonite. Photos copyright SvD.
If you'd like to know more about ammonites, this link has all the info: http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/ammonites.htm