My Crinoids and I

On my old library desk at home, I have a heavy piece of Lockport dolostone that I carried back from one of the hikes with the children, years ago. The surface of this slab of dolomite is covered with the twisted and fossilized bodies of crinoids, a prehistoric animal that lived in the inland sea that once covered much of what are now the five Great Lakes of North America: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Life was rich and abundant in this shallow sea, four hundred and twenty million years ago. There were no plants or animals yet on the land and humanity’s ancestors had yet to evolve, arriving some 400 million years later.

Crinoids looked like an underwater flower with roots, a stem and a multi-petalled head. The function of the roots, called the holdfast, was simply to anchor the animal in place while it pivoted its head against the flow of the current to catch plankton with its brachia and pinnules, which looked like feathery flower petals. The crinoids’ holdfast also permitted the creatures to move along the seabed in search of better food sources. Some prehistoric crinoids grew to be 20 metres tall. In comparison, I am ten times shorter.

When my ego gets the best of me and I start feeling like I’m special or I find myself falling into the spiral of pondering the meaning of life, I look at the writhing crinoids, frozen in time on my desk. My crinoids lived together at the bottom of that warm sea many millions of years ago. They ate, pooped, reproduced, and then suddenly and unexpectedly died. All that they left behind is on my desk.

After so many millions of years, I may be the only person who thinks about my crinoids and hears their story. The likelihood of that same recognition being extended to me, 420 million years from now, seems so remote as to be impossible. It is humbling and beautiful at the same time. So it goes.

My crinoids relate to me. They remind me that life is short and, after 420 million years, no one is going to remember my great successes or my spectacular failures, the value of my house or my 5k time or for whom I voted or how many likes I received. “Get what you can from the day”, they whisper from the past, “pivot your head into the current and catch life before it is gone”.

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