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Written by Carol Martino   
Monday, 12 June 2017 16:05

Southern Maryland

Finding Fossils from the Ancient Seas

By Carol Martino

"There's another world, and it's in this one," says author Susan Casey who writes about the natural world.

As a child, I had an affinity for that other world. For more than 20 years I've enjoyed sharing my love for nature and a sense of wonder with our grandchildren.  In today's technology-dominated society, "fun" often needs to be "plugged in."  I feel an urgency to explore the natural treasures of the world I believe it's even more important to explore the world's natural treasures. natural treasures

On a recent spring day, the weather was perfect for beachcombing. I asked Zoe, my 5-year-old granddaughter, if she wanted to go hunting for fossilized shark teeth and other treasures at the beach. She was super excited about going, especially with the new sand sifter her Papa Dan had made for such an occasion.

I promised a two-day, fun-filled adventure, but it came with one condition. We must go unplugged.  She looked confused. I explained that we couldn't touch anything with a power button, except my phone for photos and emergencies. Zoe agreed without hesitation and packed her suitcase. She also filled a large bag with an assortment of stuffed animal, another bag with Barbie and baby dolls, and threw in a kitty purse and two little pillows - none of which plugged in . So what could I say?

I gave her a tablet - the kind with thin blue lines that comes with a No. 2 pencil - to keep her occupied during the 90-minute ride from her home in Pasadena to Lusby, Maryland.  Our destination - Flag Pond Nature Park along the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County. The sandy beach is bordered by magnificent cliffs that were formed more than 15 million years ago. Over 600 species of fossils have been identified from these cliffs, with the teeth of various species of shark as the most abundant fossils.known for its fossils.  More than 600 types of fossils from the Miocene Era have been found in the region. It's not unusual for visitors to find sharks teeth that wash up on the beach year round.  One shark can produce thousands of teeth in its lifetime; when one is lost, another one is regenerated. So there's a huge chance of finding some.

Park Manager Connie Sutton said that sharks, whales, and other animals populated these shores millions of years ago. "It's pure speculation, but  paleontologists believe that the beach's shallow waters were once a birthing ground for whales. The sharks followed, knowing they could get some fast food from the vulnerable baby whales," she said.

The expansive beach is the park's "calling card," according to Sutton. "We're popular with visitors from local metropolitan areas, but we also get guests from all over. The interest is amazing.  It's nice to see family's getting away, especially when we're competing with technology which continues to get bigger, better and more entertaining," she said.

Nature doesn't have that progression, according to Sutton. "It's constant,  so it's up to all of us to discover the newness for ourselves.  We provide the accessibility, but it's up to our visitors to open their eyes and ears. It's just waiting for them and when it unfolds, it brings all of their senses alive.


Zoe must have asked a dozen times, "Are we almost there?"  I, too, anticipated our arrival; it was worth the wait! The park limits its daily visitors, so we arrived shortly before it opened at 9 a.m. and parked close to the trail that leads to the beach. Zoe grabbed her sand sifter and was ready to dash down the trail.  It's a half-mile hike to the beach. The gravel path is an easy downhill trek through a forest, but the walk back up can be a bit challenging for a tired child and her grandma.

The late-spring hike tickled our senses with the sweet scent of honeysuckle, the calls of chickadees, and the golden, day-glow petals of tulip poplars that had fallen along the trail. (Later, we learned that thep poplars are the largest trees in the forest.) We passed a sign pointing to Duncan's Pond Trail, one of three trails at the park, and decided to check it out on the way back.

After wading through a stream that flowed from nearby tidal ponds,  Zoe spotted the sandy beach ahead and picked up her speed. She sifted the sand along the tide line with other children. Within an hour, she found a nice-size shark's tooth (identified as a Mako by a seasoned sifter), some fossilized coral, and a treasury of shells.

I thought the shark's tooth was a great find, but Zoe was more interested in the shimmering oyster shells with little holes that were perfect for stringing. We wondered how the holes got there. Later, we learned that sea snails and other mollusks have drill-like tongues that bore through oyster shells to suck out the meat.

After gathering a pile of treasures, Zoe played in the water and jumped the waves with other kids. It's amazing how quickly seaside friendships are formed.  As much as I enjoy the sound of waves lapping the shore, I enjoy the joyous laughter of children more.

By early afternoon, Zoe was ready to leave the beach and explore the trail we had passed earlier. We headed up the hill towards Duncan's Pond Trail; she stopped for a while to write our names in the sand. "That's so I will always remember that we were here," she said.

Our steps grew slower as we trudged along.  We rested on a bench for a few minutes while watching others struggle up the path.  Eventually we made it to the trail and followed the grassy path toward the pond. But neither of us had the energy to go too far. So we didn't see the celebrated blue flag iris blooming. The park is named for this native flower which can be seen near the pond in the spring.

Before leaving, we checked out the visitor's center where visitors wrote about their findings at the beach. Zoe was eager to add her treasures  write down her own findings.

We called it a day.

That night, we stayed at  a nearby Holiday Inn Express in Prince Frederick.  As tired as we were, Zoe still wanted to play school.  She must have been energized by our adventure and recharged by nature, because our first assignment was to draw something we had seen at the beach that day.  Surprisingly, she didn't draw a shark tooth or a shell; she drew a long stick - like the one she used to write our names in the sand, and beneath the stick, she wrote "Zoe and Gram."   So sweet! If only I could reverse the sands of time. But I can't. So I cherish every moment for now, and will visit them in memories forever.

FLAG PONDS NATURE PARK is open daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 p.m. weekends). Educational tours are available by advanced registration. Small entrance fee required per car. For more information, call (410) 535-5327 or visit www.calvertparks.org




Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 June 2017 08:20

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