When Svalbard was young and verdant, he left his home below the equator to go explore the northern seas. He made his way past other floating continents, and then he met Greenland, and things did not go well. He left a piece of his heart with her, and she a particularly jagged, pointy piece of hers with him. He subsequently traveled almost as far north as a continent could get, but his youth and lush beauty didn’t last. The leafy ferns and trees that had thrived in his hometown began to wither in the cold, and eventually they turned to stone, covered with blankets of silt and soil and then ice and snow, until they were hidden from view. Then the icy chill receded, as did the snow, and the rocky remnants began tumbling down the mountainside, just south of Longyearbyen.
There they were discovered by us. We sat on large rocks at the edge of the glacier, flipping over flat pieces to see if there were any tell-tale veins or palmated strands running along the bottom. It didn’t take me long until I found one – a row of small black leaves, almost as if someone had painted the simplest impression of wheat berries on it. Next came a reddish strand of grass, then the dark granulated fibres of petrified wood. I was in my happy place, sorting and sifting though rocks. Just beyond us, a row of snowmobiles sat, high and dry at the edge of the glacier, waiting for the winter snows to start.
Our guide told us that everyone in town just rode their ‘snoscooters’ around until they couldn’t, and then some would leave them in strategic places, while others just abandoned them in various places around Longyearbyen until the snow accumulated again.
We loaded up our bags with our prehistoric treasures and slip-slided our way back down the mud and shale (who knows how many fossils we missed!) We trekked across boulders and rock fields and eventually a makeshift bridge over the latte-colored river, down the glacial moraine where the ice and snow used to come all the way down to Longyearbyen.
I got back to the hotel and laid out all my fossil finds (okay who am I kidding — I took a nap first). But then I did lay them out and marveled at the idea that I could have a pocketful of stones from 60 (to 90) million years ago. Svalbard would not be so impressed, though. He’s been through a lot, and once he’s done hanging out up North, maybe he’ll make his way back down to where he started, and grow new trees over the old fossils.