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Why I Hunt for Sidewalk Fossils

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Once I started noticing these impressions, I had fun imagining myself as a paleontologist in the modern city.

Sidewalk fossils are basically the same color as the surrounding concrete, so they’re most noticeable when the light hits them. Fossils that are elusive at noon may emerge at dawn or dusk. So I timed a second walk each day, at a time when the lights were out. There were others: dog paws, three quarters of shoes. Echnologists studying trace fossils may discount leaves, but I marveled at them too. Most London planes and ginkgo and wavy fans. I knelt down until the cold concrete stung my knees.

When scientists encounter fossils, they often try to figure out how they got there. Animals may have been stranded, washed off their feet, or chased by predators. Once I started noticing these impressions, I had fun imagining myself as a paleontologist in the modern city. The chicken leg bonanza made me wonder if someone had scattered seeds or dropped a bagel. how long ago? what kind? When the leaves didn’t seem to match any of the nearby trees, I wondered if it was an intruder, blown from a few blocks away, or evidence of ecological eviction. thought. Fossils not only kept my attention on the tangible, but also on walking around, making me think of city streets as a collage of past and present, and about my non-human neighbors being architects. How do we shed our own imprints, whether we know it or not?

Of course, there is more significant evidence of the past. A mammoth can appear in a farmer’s field, its tusks bent like a scythe abandoned on the ground. A parade of dinosaur footprints marches along the banks and riverbeds of prehistoric rivers and seas. They’re nice, flashy and obvious. I stand in line to see them. I gawk happily. But it was a small thrill to come across subtle, recent past evidence, evidence that others have been there. Paleontological equivalents of letters.

They are actually not rare. Once the sidewalk is repaired, birds and other animals ignore attempts to keep the sidewalk in pristine condition. Leaves do whatever the wind demands. These fossils are easy to find and we are lucky. A sidewalk fossil kicked me out when I was left in the worst part of my brain. Fossils on the sidewalks that are places often offer glimpses of continued life. Birds flew somewhere else. I think the dog kept wielding many sticks and smells. When the sun went down and I got home, the fossils—these little flukes, these interesting accidents—reminded me of a small, exhilarating life.

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