When I was in third grade our class would walk to the library next to the school in Hubbardston Massachusetts. I would immediately gravitate to the science or history section. There were a number of books that interested me and I would find myself flipping the pages of these books and immersing myself in the pictures and captions below them. I was particularly intrigued with one book in particular. It was called The Forest. It was one of the books in the Life Nature Library, a series of books written for young adults, or merely any lay person interested in a subject and wanting to get a better understanding of it without diving into too much technical jargon. Perfect for me. I am not a scholar and never will be. I get bored with one subject and eventually turn to something else. However, I always find myself going back to the same things. Case in point...Lepidodendron.
So, what is Lepidodendron? The casual reader probably doesn't have the foggiest notion what it is. I bet if my 8 year old self could return to his classroom of 1976 or 1977 and ask any of the teachers if they knew what Lepidodendron was I would get some puzzled looks. In the golden days of fossil hunting, strange stones were found in the coal beds that appeared to show the fossilized skin of an ancient reptile. However, it wasn't long before it was determined that the scale like fossils were not anything from the animal kingdom. They were the fossilized impressions of ancient trees that lived in the Carboniferous Era some 300 million years ago. Hence the name Lepidodendron. Literally meaning "scale tree." These trees were prolific and dominated the ancient swampy forests of the Carboniferous sharing their world with giant dragonflies and other primitive life. Lepidodendron trees rose to heights of nearly 100 feet and though prolific for millions of years, they eventually died out and became extinct sometime during the Triassic.
I must have checked The Forest out of the Hubbardston town library dozens of times in the 6 years that I attended elementary school. One of the images that I clearly remembered from this book was an artists depiction of a Permian forest with the scale like fallen trunks of Lepidodendron in the foreground and a rainbow arcing across the ancient sky. I must have studied that image every time that I borrowed that book. I left grade school in 1980 and forgot about the book. However, over the next 35 years or so I would occasionally find myself saying the word Lepidodendron. Sometimes it would just roll off my tongue for no apparent reason, and I wondered why it would just pop into my head at random times. Walking across a muddy Okinawan field with the Marines in 1987...Lepidodendron. A few years later in 1993 working on a train signal...Lepidodendron. In Paris on my honeymoon in 1997...Lepidodendron. The birth of my son in 2003...Lepidodendron. At the bedside of my terminally ill twin brother Jay in 2018...Lepidodendron. Just now...Lepidodendron. Am I the only one who does this?
A few years ago Jay received a box of books from someone, and in it there just happened to be a few of the old Nature Library books including The Forest!! I had not seen this book in nearly 35 years and suddenly here it was again. It brought back a flood of memories and when I opened it up I was 8 again. I found myself sitting alone at one of the tables in the Hubbardston town library. It was then that I realized what it was about Lepidodendron that caused it to stick in my head. It was extinct! For millions of years it had been forgotten as if it never existed. Then one day the fossils that were found brought it back to life. One day Lepidodendron will disappear again. This time for good, just as humankind. the earth, the sun and the whole galaxy will one day vanish into the recesses of time's lonely corridor. It is an unsettling thought, but I must have imagined something like it when I first stared at its lonely and forgotten life in the pages of a book some 40 years ago. Now I remember. One day I too, like Lepidodendron, will be forgotten. I find myself looking up from the page at a blank space on the wall and then casually looking back at the fallen trunks. Lepidodendron... Lepidodendron...Lepidodendron...