January 8th, 2009
Olivia Judson's Reflections on an Oyster is well worth a read:
An oyster shell sits on the table in front of me. But I'm not about to have an oyster feast: I won't be squeezing a lemon, grinding pepper and lifting the shell to my lips. This isn't because I'd choke, though the animal from this shell would be far larger than one throatful. It's because this oyster died more than 20 million years ago, and the shell is empty.
As I run my hands over the rough crenellations of the shell's outside, as I feel the weight of the stone in my hands (and it is heavy — 1.3 kgs, or nearly 3 lbs.), I can't help feeling a kind of reverence for this fragment of the fabric of the past.
It's hard to become a fossil, to leave a tangible record of your presence on the Earth millions of years after you died. Most of us swiftly get recycled into other beings. After all, the competition for corpses is fierce. Species of bacteria, worms, ants, flies, beetles and even some butterflies have a taste for rotting flesh. And that's without mentioning larger scavengers, like vultures, hyenas and mongooses. [...]