I’ve just returned from a short trip to northwest Ontario where I listened to some trees and rocks (a purpose that did little to impress when recounted to immigration officials).
Among the boreal delights were ravens, a species that according to the Objibwe, the First Nations people of the region, brought the world into being and gave the two mainstays of life: water and fish. In the presence of these highly social, intelligent, garrulous birds it is obvious why the Objibwe regard ravens with such respect. Awesome creatures.
A fledgling raven sat in the tree above my tent, calling to its sib and two parents. The following recording, made amid a haze of mosquitoes, captures some of the birds’ vocalizations. The loud, insistent squawk is the youngster. The Objibwe name for raven is gaagaagi and young ravens are known as gaagaagiins, names that capture the talkative nature of these birds.
And as we listen, insects gather to gather atoms for the regional taxation system. Naked mammals are in the highest tax bracket. Note the backcurved sheath, exposing the penetrating stylet. Her hind legs are twitching in delight.
These cherts (from the Gunflint formation) are 1.88 billion years old and contain the oldest known fossils of any lifeform in North America. Until some Australian and African finds beat the record, they were the oldest known fossils from anywhere: life’s first recorded mark upon the Universe. J. W. Schopf’s 2000 PNAS paper has some great photos of these microscopic cells, our (great)^1,880,000,000-grandparents.
In lieu of interpretative signage at this site of Universal importance, we have ♥KIMI blazed on a fir tree. What is amazing to me is not that someone would put their mark on a tree, but that Kimi or her friend came walking in the boreal forest prepared with a can of pink spraypaint just in case. Gotta love Homo sapiens’ complicated inner world, all jumping out of our nerve cells: those microfossils gave rise to some interesting phenomena.
The lichens grow on, poking fresh new growth from under their pigmented parts. If we knew the growth rate of the lichens, we could date this new Gunflint stratum quite accurately.