Jim Lacefield is a retired adjunct professor of biology and Earth sciences from the University of North Alabama. His book, Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide to the State’s Ancient Life and Landscapes, is in its fifth printing. It is published by The Alabama Museum of Natural History at The University of Alabama. I understand its success. Reading it has helped me be more aware of my environment and observe more closely the rocks, mountains, fossils, and environmental diversity of Alabama. Our state is outstanding on many levels related to Earth sciences.
After listening to Lacefield speak, I had an opportunity the next day to canoe down a creek at Camp McDowell. I saw the layers of metamorphic and sedimentary rocks along the creek, tall boulders that had been eroded over time and deposited sand from the giant rocks along the creek banks. Other teachers and I spotted footprints in the sand and noticed broken empty eggs shells lying near them. The boulders give the river sand, which gives turtles a place to deposit their eggs, which give raccoons a food source. See how an ecosystem works?
Later in the week, I picked up fossils along a roadside at the base of a cutaway mountain in Fort Payne. I am proud of the bud of an ancient sea plant that I found, the Pentremite pyriformis. I think I may turn it into a necklace. I did yoga with other teachers on a new find on Mt. Cheaha – Pulpit Rock. How have I missed this site all of my life?
On Friday of the same week, I picked up 30 garnets in the mica-rich rocks along the Coosa River. The garnets are not of gem quality, but they are definitely crystalline with multiple facets.
Now that I am back home, I am eager to learn more about the rocks and mountains closer to home. Lacefield’s book will be in my hand, and it is turning this language arts teacher into a science enthusiast.
In one quote from the book about our area (and there are many), Lacefield said a “green and sparkly rock has a surprising story to tell. It comes from a set of rocks in Alabama’s Piedmont known as the Hillabee Greenstone. … [It] formed as part of a volcanic island arc that once lay off of the eastern seaboard of North Alabama.” I want to drive to the nearby Hillabee area and find a Hillabee Greenstone.
The second book, Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity, published by the University of Alabama Press, is written by R. Scot Duncan. He an associate professor of biology and urban environmental studies at Birmingham-Southern College. His lecture, an accompanying video, and his book taught me that Alabama is number one in unexpected ways. We have more geological diversity than any state in the Eastern United States. This diversity is a result of the way the land was created when Earth was formed. Alabama ranks at the top of biodiversity in the East and number five in the United States.
Duncan often quotes a man named Bruce Stein who published a report called “States of the Union: Ranking America’s Biodiversity.”
“Stein’s report identified Alabama as a biological superstar on the North American continent,” wrote Duncan.
Here is some of proof: 1. For its size, Alabama ranks first for species diversity. 2. Alabama ranks number one in biodiversity, including fishes, snails, mussels, turtles, and crayfishes. 3. Alabama ranks high in endemic species, which are species that are only found here. We have 144. 4. Alabama has one of the richest collections of ocean-related biodiversity outside the tropics, meaning our shore is wealthy in the number of species along the shores and in the Gulf.
I was able to see evidence of these special species that make up Alabama’s biodiversity. At Camp McDowell, I learned about the hellbender that lives in the creeks. It looks like a turtle without a shell. At Mt. Cheaha, I chewed on the sweet birch tree stem. It tastes like Beechnut Gum. At the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center, I petted an alligator and should have petted the Eastern Indigo snake that has been reintroduced to South Alabama. I was a little squimish about the snake. On the Coosa, I saw the rare Cahaba lilies in bloom. On a creek in Andalusia, I found a dragon fly nymph swimming in the sand. I bravely stuck my hand in murky water and pulled up mussels by the handful. Some of these activities were out of my comfort zone. I absolutely could not wade in the black slimy pond in a salt march at Dauphin Island, but my friends did. I cheered them on.
Another huge concept I learned about while traveling throughout the state is that the geology and its related biodiversity also has affected Alabama history, culture, economy, site of its cities, current events, and more even aspects of our lives. Several leaders at the conference stated that Alabama should become a leader among states in tourism, conservation, and pride because of these gifts.
Not everyone can attend the Mountains to the Gulf Conference, but we all can spread the word about these two books. Reading them will help us enjoy our state more each time we are out in nature.
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