The Ephemeral and the Enduring


This is what it looks like walking out to the breakwater. A still quiet morning with the only sounds being a gentle hum of the slightly removed city and the many birds. Misty water and muted colours.

As you walk further out to the boulders another quiet sound becomes apparent. The sound of what is left of the ice gently coming apart as it sways onto the rocky edge of the breakwater. A scattering of pops and cracks. It has turned into candle ice, columns of ice perpendicular to the surface of the water that easily break apart from each other. There is some pushed onto the shoreline and I pick it up and listen to it fall back into the water and onto the rocks. A sound like tinkling glass. A sound, I think to myself, that will not last the day.

The last few sheets of ice are melting quickly in the warmth and moving slowly towards the rapids just downstream. It has been a quick melt.




I am standing on the large limestone boulders that make up the breakwater. In stark contrast to the fleeting ice they are ancient and enduring. They are also generously scattered with visible fossils. Fossils that are of Ordovician origin, which makes them somewhere around 450 million years old!

I only know this because I have had a collaborator for this post. Paleontologist Graham Young and author of the excellent blog Ancient Shore very kindly identified the fossils I photographed along the breakwater. Graham is Curator of Geology and Paleontology at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg.

These appear to be rounded bryozoan colonies that have been broken open. Bryozoans are aquatic invertebrate animals that live on the seafloor.

Branching bryozoans are mixed up with a lot of other debris, including echinoderm stem segments, probably from crinoids or sea lilies (these are the little donut-shaped fossils)

The shells are rhynchonelliformean brachiopods (lamp shells)

More bryozoans, again in a bed of mixed fossil debris.

I’m not sure about this circular structure; it is probably a badly preserved bryozoan.

These appear to be burrow structures (trace fossils), which stand out because they are better cemented than the surrounding muddy material. They would have formed as burrows in the seafloor, perhaps made by arthropods.

A large batch of bryozoans. These are very neat because they have been “nested” together, possibly as a result of movement by currents after death.

A large straight cephalopod, related to the chambered nautilus. Imagine a nautilus that has its shell stretched out, rather than coiled.

A glance back.

* Fossil descriptions by Graham Young with some editing by me.
Thank you Graham!
www.ancientshore.com

All images © Karen McRae

85 thoughts on “The Ephemeral and the Enduring

  1. What a wonderful spot Karen. My favourite is the top shot.. I love the colouring…… I’m very interested in what lenses you are using for these shots…can I ask?

    1. Helen, it’s the same lens I mentioned before but perhaps what you might want to know, is that I’m using a polarizing filter on the lens. I find it indispensable for making many of my photographs.

      It’s very useful for reducing reflections on water and ice, making what is below the water surface more visible giving you more intense colours. Do you have one? (Maybe I’ll do a post demonstrating the difference)

      1. Well if you can get a polarizing filter I would highly recommend one, they can be expensive though…I use UV filters on my lenses also and the other filters just screw on top.

  2. There are some beautiful, atmospheric photos here powerfully creating the space and the sense of place. The commentary is interesting, informative and valuable too.

  3. A very well developed post, Karen. Thanks for taking the time to be educational as well as illustrative. The candle ice is spell-binding. I imagine the sound, the delicacy, the impermanence. Nice contrast with the fossils. If your place is anything like the Wisconsin limestone quarries, those lilies and crinoids are from tropical barrier reefs when this now northern crust was part of Pangaea on the equator.

    1. The candle ice is beautiful isn’t it? It’s even better in real life just sparking in the morning sun.
      I have much to learn about the fossils around here and their history, it is a fossil rich area and they are very intriguing.
      Thank you Scilla.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever come across fossils out in the “wild.” What an incredible find. I know they’re not so uncommon in some areas, but I think I would be dumstruck to find some on my own…. How beautiful. And I love the ice, too…beautiful mounds of it along the shore…so pretty. Thank you, Karen. 🙂

    1. The fossils are pretty cool Scott. I’ve got a collection of small fossils I have found on the shoreline over the years and they never get boring! It blows me away to hold the traces of a little creature in my hand that is 450 million years old!
      I hope you find some. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      1. What a treasure, indeed, to hold those little things from those hundreds of millions of years ago. I hope I find some, too, Karen…and you’re most welcome…always. 🙂

  5. What an interesting post. In the same time I’m guessing that you were spreading
    the imagination to the grand ancient creepy crawlies and their world 🙂
    One question is, the Pan-focus effects you put into the photos, Ice crystal to the
    Infinity —– did you get it just by using small F aperture ?
    To produce this effect, I even needed to hack-saw (and modify the lens to tilt) my camera.
    Your photos had well captured both your eyes gazing into the core of the existence, while your mind is wondering toward the infinity of the time and the space.

    1. Yoshizen, no hack-saws were used in the making of this post! 😀

      My camera has very good multi-point focusing abilities but yes small apertures help also.
      I’m glad you like the images , thank you!

    1. Thanks Kathleen, the ice doesn’t last very long in that formation because it breaks apart quickly in the warmth. Timing is everything! The fossils though,they are patient…

  6. Fascinating, Karen! I loved going on the journey through the photos. The ice formations were beautiful and the fossils were wonderful. I liked the lamp shell fossil the best… a delicate and dainty fossil in the rough limestone. Great work.

  7. You’ve gone and done it again! 🙂
    I am not going to gush!
    I really do get a kick from your images, and the words are the icing on the cake!

  8. I love the photo you labeled CandleIce. When I first saw it it looked like the land from above as one looks out the plane window. It scrolled up as such a surprise when the gorgeous ice appeared. I love the other ice photos and the fossil photos as well. I also am fascinated by fossils and rock formations. 😀

  9. What a tremendously rich post, beautifully composed with contrast and delightful edification! I love the stillness presented with vastly different weight. Thanks Karen!

  10. Wow Karen, how interesting! The images of the ice are as fascinating as the fossil finds. I like this approach to showing a change in seasons – it’s not all about new life emerging from the land. It’s also about water and the life within – or, a reminder of what once was. Awesome. Loved your words too. I could hear the temporal tinkling glass.

  11. Wow. The first and last photos in this set are great (as are the ones in between). But these two are remarkable for the way the framing of the scene absolutely makes the picture sing. The top one is nice enough when cropped by my computer screen, but it *needs* all that lovely sky you put there to reach its full glory.

  12. I like fiossls, too. I have a shark’s fin fiossl that I got years ago from one of my brother’s college roommates. It’s kind of fragile. It’s dark black. Probably shale. I have small rocks from all over. A few from Jamaica look as if they have shell imprints on them. We live in an old bungalow. The masonry along the front steps is made out of limestone. If you look really close, you can see fiossls in the limestone, too. I like living in a house that comes with its own fiossls. I hope some day to go on a dinosaur dig. I think that would be a lot of fun.

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