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Butterfly Stones

By Dave Cowles


Vacations--even those that seem the most ordinary--can be the greatest times in a kids' life. One of those times occurred for me the summer my parents rented a cottage, sight unseen, in the little town of Marysville on Lake Huron.

I was 9 that summer. My brother was 11, and my sister was 5. The cottage was on a bluff overlooking the lake. Water and kids seem to have a natural affinity for one another, so after unpacking our gear we immediately charged down the steps to check out the "beach." It turned out to be more hard-packed clay than sand, and when we tried to wade into the water, we found our tender feet negotiating a bed of rocks.

Hearing sounds of agony and disappointment from us kids, Dad made his way down the steps to investigate. While he assured us that things weren't as bad as they looked, he had trouble hiding his own negative appraisal of the situation. It was clearly a vacation disaster in the making.

As he stepped to the edge of the water and looked down at the treacherous stones beneath the breaking waves, his eye caught something in the surf. Bending down, he reached into the froth and pulled out a small, shiny, worn, almost geometric-shaped stone.

"Hey, you monkeys look at this!" he called out.

We ran to where he was standing in the water, and he held out his treasure for us to see. He said it was a fossil of a critter from the age of dinosaurs. He called it a "butterfly stone."

Looking closer, we saw a tiny miracle. The fossil was only an inch or so wide and looked for all the world like a small butterfly with its wins extended. Dad, a veteran of years of Boy Scouting, had a trained eye for such things. He explained to us that butterfly stones are really the leftover skeletons of something called "brachiopods."

He looked at our "beach" and decided it was worth another scan to see if there were more fossils around.

The four of us walked about a quarter of a mile along the water's edge, eyes pinned to the ground. In ten minutes we had found three more.

All disappointment left, thoughts of swimming and sand castles faded, and that brand new adventure captured our imaginations. For the next week we walked the water's edge with Dad, collecting fossils, and before our vacation ended we had harvested 60 or 70 butterfly stones. I still have several. Every time I look at them I'm reminded of the summer Dad showed us how to make the best of a bad situation and taught us the pleasures and rewards of beachcombing.

Ordinary times. Extraordinary memories.