Collecting in Adversity By Marc Behrendt
It all started when my friend Ken Karns decided he wanted to go on a winter collecting
trip. Adversity, he claims, is what makes collecting fun. I agreed to join him, mostly
because his site was private land, said to contain interesting Silurian trilobite species,
and partly because I figured some interesting stories would come from the trip.
A third sucker, (I mean collector) joined us, Shanan Peters, a crafty collector who has
mastered falling asleep in any position within seconds. The weather was beautiful as we
planned the trip from Ohio to Indiana. Although rainy, temperatures soared into the
60s! We were lulled into complacency until a few days before our departure, when
temperatures dropped below zero. The wind howled, as did our wives, parents, and friends,
all questioning our sanity.
We met at 3:30 on the mid-January morning. The weather forecast was ominous, snow north
and freezing rain south. Except for the wind, the present weather was not bad. However,
Indiana was the meeting point of the two storm systems. We decided to check out the
collecting situation, then get a hotel room to evaluate the situation.
The drive to Kens site was not bad, except for the snow, and freezing rain that
later met us an hour into our drive. The full size Ford pickup had 4-wheel drive, so we
were in pretty good shape on the road, when we could see it. The wipers were compromised
by the freezing rain and smeared the now almost opaque glass. The interstate was bad; the
backroads were worse. The long drive on the secondary roads etched this reminder into my
brain buy Ken an ice scraper for his truck.
Undaunted, we arrived midmorning, deciding to attack a major shale formation. The site
was an abandoned quarry, filled with water. We planned to remove about 8 feet of rock to
get to the unweathered trilobite layer. The previous weeks rains had penetrated the
shale, then the sub-zero temperatures created an unforgivingly solid formation.
We decided to don our waders and pull out shale slabs from underwater. Remarkably, the
Quarry Lake was still open water. It sure would have helped, though, if we all remembered
waterproof gloves. I brought along my trapping gloves, which are rubber and fit up to my
armpits. Ken and Shanan wore short regular winter gloves. So Ken took my trapping gloves
and stood waist deep in the lake, pulling up slabs with his pick, while Shanan and I used
scrub brushes and examined the slabs for fossils.
The average slab pulled up was tabletop size. After a quick examination we broke the
slab into manageable size pieces then placed the shale on shore and began to examine the
next monster slab. After several pieces were ashore, we all got onto our hands and knees
and searched for traces of fossils and the trilobite Maurotarions (Harpidella)
eyes, which are about the size of a pinhead. The first set of slabs yielded several
crinoid root systems and many gastropods. I found a Calymene molt that was
separated by complete.
This process continued through lunchtime. By now, the weather that had been freezing
drizzle turned into a major hard rain that froze on contact. We were drenched. We crawled
under the pickup trucks cap, where Ken fired up his kerosene heater. As we sat there
discussing our sanity, we literally smoked from the water evaporating from our clothing!
We then continued our search for the trilobites we know were hidden there. I finally
struck gold with a couple Maurotarion christi, first a beautiful flat one, then an
enrolled bug. Ken found a couple Calymene breviceps and then a beautiful crinoid
crown. Then Ken decided to slam his pick into his waders, directly into the right boot,
which did not hurt his foot, but certainly let the water in.
We decided to find a room and thaw out. Most of the specimens were left in piles,
because we were too numb to pick them up and the weather service was calling for the
precipitation to end during the evening hours. We traveled until we found a motel, and
collapsed into the room. The heat was cranked up and we spread out all our saturated
clothing and equipment to dry. The room was filled with a hazy fog from 3 long hot showers
and thawing saturated clothing.
We ate a hot meal, stopped at a store to purchase a new pair of waders and settled down
early to sleep. Actually, Ken stayed awake for a while. He was thrilled he found a perfect
crinoid crown in such adversity, he just smiled and smiled (and reminded Shanan and me of
his fortune several times.)
The next morning we arose at dawn, prepared to hit the quarry again. We survived what I
figured to be the most adverse day I would ever collect. That was when I opened the
curtains. Outside, the world lay still with a pristine coat of snow. We ate a warm
breakfast and headed back to the quarry.
It was not until we parked that we realized all our specimens now lay under several
inches of snow, all around the quarry! Our first task was to locate and pack those
specimens. Most needed a sledge hammer to loosen them from the tundra, since they were
also coated with an inch of frozen rain.
We separated and collected alone this day. Although it continued to snow, it
wasnt nearly as wet as the day before. Ken found a nice double Calymene and a
cephalopod with beautiful ornamentation. Shanan located a pocket of mammoth gastropods
plus several enrolled Maurotarion. I found a couple more rolled Maurotarion
and 2 rolled Calymene, but I was happiest first to find a big 3-dimensional lichid
trilobite cephalon, and then a pygidium.
Although we planned to spend 3 days at this dig, we decided wed had enough
adversity for a while. At 4 p.m. we packed up and headed home. The roads were still snow
and ice covered, but we made it home safely.
The next weekend, temperatures were back in the 70s once again.
Should insanity run in your genes and you decide to go on a winter dig, I would
recommend several items:
- An ice scraper with a snow brush
- Several changes of warm clothing
- At least 3 pair of gloves for each day
- Chest waders
- If collecting around water, trapping gloves
- A kerosene heater
- A camera, because nobody will believe you went on this trip
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