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Imagine being eight years old, full of energy and excitement, riding down the pothole-filled gravel street that rests in front of your house on your brand new red bicycle. The grass within the ditches are high, literally eating into the cracks along each side of the road. The Florida summer heat is baking, but the breeze generated by the movement of the bike manages to keep the sticky sweat away.
I don’t know what happened that day to make me swerve into the ditch and crash, but I did. My brand new bike crashed, front wheel first, smashing into the dirt and uprooting a hailstorm of dust and debris as I fell with it. Of course, being eight years old, it didn’t hurt me much. Kids are basically physically indestructible; this is just science.
It took me a couple seconds to regain my composure, standing up to witness the horrific tragedy of my brand new bike’s back end close to hovering in the air with its wheel lodged in the earth. I had a couple scrapes on my arm, drawing just enough blood to slightly sting but not enough to actually care.
I stared down at the wreckage, feeling a mixture of the aforementioned excitement and guilt. I remember worrying if I broke the bike, and after a few seconds I found myself tugging on the wheel in an attempt to loosen it from the gravel-soil foundation beneath my feet. After one good tug, the bike was released from the Earth’s grasp. I looked down at my possession, only a few minor scrapes on the otherwise pristine red paint. But as I looked down, my eye was captivated. My attention diverted from the bike to the ground that it had just been stuck in.
A strange rock.
I carefully dropped my bike; one close call was already enough for the day. I leaned down and picked the rock up, my hands brushing grainy dirt and small specks of pebbles away from the rough edges and crevices that dawned its front side. My eyes suddenly were aware that there were several of these rocks; some sticking half out of the ground and others barely noticeable with only their fronts poking out the gash my bike had just made.
I got down, using my hands to dig up a second strange rock. And then a third. And then a fourth. I was slightly amused, but heavily interested, by the fact that these rocks were only a good sixty yards away from where I called home. I had never even seen them before!
For the next six months, I was an archaeologist. I went out nearly every day in search of treasure in the form of these strange rocks. I hung a medium-sized bucket from my precious bike’s handlebars and filled it up several times each day. Some of these rocks were big, even larger than my hand. Some of them were small, barely fitting within the palm of my hand. But they all interested me more than I could express to anyone.
I continued my archaeological hunt for almost a year, scouring around my barren neighborhood in search for newer and better wonders of possibly prehistoric wonders. I spent an entire week excavating a plot of dirt in the vacant lot next door, discovering a massive piece of fossilized coral that had to have weighed at least eighty pounds. I found an abundant amount of cool shells and interesting rocks that I never bothered to identify. I took trips to possibly find shark teeth and always hoped to find somethings actual bones. I never found any bones, to my eight-to-nine-year-old self’s dismay. But I did find something incredible: my love for history.
The thoughts began to collect with me: where I stood, where I lived, had once been a vastly different place. Where I called home had once been completely submerged in water. Where I called home had once been the home of these clams and this coral.
At eight years old I held something that was older than the state – hell, the country – that I found them in. I held a collection of things that had (a very long time ago) lived, died, and found itself eternally formed into rock. Those thoughts intrigued me beyond imagination. I could have easily been the first person to ever hold these things!
That rush, that interest I had in fossilized stone that I now know is incredibly common, is perhaps the very first thing that fueled my initial interest in studying history. These are literally everywhere in Florida, just below our feet at most levels of rural areas. They’re in yards, under streets, down the block from just about everywhere. But, it meant something huge to me at the time.
This clam fossil story affected so much of my academic personality, my interests, and my passion for history. A single clam fossil led me down a path that sparked my interest in history itself. And to think, I possibly wouldn’t have ever developed this current mindset if I didn’t randomly crash my bike into a ditch that summer day.