Cambrian shoreline

8 05 2012

I was inspired by Matthew Wright’s post, Worldbuilding: putting it on ice, to offer up a quote from Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale: a Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life”.

He quoted p. 120 of “Life: An Unauthorized Biography” by Richard Fortey. Can you imagine the utter strangeness of this landscape?

“I can imagine standing upon a Cambrian shore in the evening, much as I stood on the shore at Spitsbergen and wondered about the biography of life for the first time. The sea lapping at my feet would look and feel much the same. Where the sea meets the land there is a patch of slightly sticky, rounded stromatolite pillows, survivors from the last groves of the Precambrian. The wind is whistling across the red plains behind me, where nothing visible lives, and I can feel the sharp sting of wind-blown sand on the back of my legs. But in the muddy sand at my feet I can see worm casts, little curled wiggles that look familiar. I can see trails of dimpled impressions left by the scuttling of crustacean-like animals… Apart from the whistle of the breeze and the crash and suck of the breakers, it is completely silent, and nothing cries in the wind…”

This phrase – the wind is whistling across the red plains behind me, where nothing visible lives – grabbed my imagination, and has never let it go. No animals, no plants, just dirt, and rocks, and volcanoes… no movement, no wind in the trees, nothing but clouds scudding over a barren landscape.

And that was the earth, 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period. Already the world was teeming with microscopic life, but the sea? It was also home to worms, hard-shelled beasties, and the things they fed on. Life was exploding under the waves, but the first brave multi-cellular beings had yet to make their way to the open air.

If you would like to know more about the Cambrian period, I recommend this link.

Can you imagine how strange the earth must have been at that time? It opens up more and more ideas for worldbuilding in fantasy/scifi novels, doesn’t it?

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13 responses

8 05 2012
Lorinda J. Taylor

I really love the way your imagination works, Julia! Paleontology, archaeology, ancient history, myth – these are all things that I think should inspire the fantasy writer.

8 05 2012
Julia Indigo

Thanks, Lorinda! If I wasn’t a musician, I’d’ve been a scientist. Or an esotericist! Oh wait… if I’m a writer I can be all that plus more! 😀
My first WIP (and current focus) is contemporary fiction. The second – full-on fantasy… and it’s been calling me, softly, from it’s folder in the Dropbox. See? If you listen you can hear it calling, “Juliaaaa! Juliaaaa! Don’t forget us!”

8 05 2012
Ginny Bales

Beautiful writing and expanding consciousness! I feel as if I am just beginning to explore a whole new world of words too, standing on the shore of something very old and also very new, full of currents I’m starting to notice and winds I’m just beginning to feel. Thanks for the new landscape!

8 05 2012
Julia Indigo

You’re welcome, Ginny! I wish I’d written that, but am glad that I found it.
Hmmmm. Perhaps it could be the beginning of a Tuesday series of mind-expanding quotations?? I think so! 😀

9 05 2012
Ginny Bales

Great idea about mind-expanding quotations.
I love the daisy chain of writers quoting other writers, enjoying each other’s work, luxuriating in the words and images that someone else has written. We all need that mental contact. Writers need appreciative readers just as musicians need appreciative listeners! (It’s fun to read your posts Julia, seeing the combination of writing, music, and other creative thought that you are working on.)

9 05 2012
Julia Indigo

I think I’m going to run with that, Ginny. I’d saved up quotes a while back, and I think I have enough for 2-3 months of Tuesdays. Sunday will be the row80 update, Tuesday for mind-expansion… and hopefully another post on Fri. Thursday is usually a busy day.

And thank you for the compliment! You made me smile – I’m glad that my smorgasbord of postings are interesting.I’ve thought about trying to focus this blog more… but I’m to ADHD to do that right now. It’s nice to know that someone appreciates my meanderings.

9 05 2012
Matthew Wright

Hi – thank you for the shout-out. And for sharing such a great post. The Cambrian era was just incredible with its creatures that were so different to ours in so many ways. How different would the world be, I wonder, if one type of creature rather than another had survived? Good stuff – and, absolutely, an inspiration for story-writing.

9 05 2012
Julia Indigo

You are so welcome, Matthew! After all, it was your post that inspired me to share that quote.

As far as your question: it seems that the quadrapedal with a backbone/notochord + one head and (one tail) became the default on earth. Perhaps an evolutionary biologist would be able to explain why this variant was most viable, I certainly can’t!

And yes, it is inspiring!

10 05 2012
Matthew Wright

Maybe accidentally. A BBC/Richard Attenborough documentary on this period recently aired on NZ TV, I don’t know whether it’s available otherwise. It included some remarkable CGI reconstructions of the Edicarians and other Cambrian oddities. Amazing stuff.

9 05 2012
Matthew Wright

I realise my comment was likely ambiguous in regard to sharing a great post – I meant your thoughts on the Cambrian, not my post you’d highlighted!

9 05 2012
Julia Indigo

Oh, I didn’t see it that way at all, Matthew. No problem! Or as they say Down Under: no worries! 😀

9 05 2012
Karen McFarland

All I can say Julia is that I’m glad I wasn’t alive then, I like it now better, or maybe somewhere in-between! LOL! 🙂

13 05 2012
In Which I Become Productive: Row80 update « Julia Indigo

[…] for quotes that spark something in me. I inadvertently started that last week, with my post on the Cambrian Shoreline. I’ve got to get cracking on Tuesdays’ entry in the series, because I’ll be with […]

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