Dinosaur Valley

The Gods can be anywhere (thought not everywhere, at least not at once) and our ancestors move with us on our migrations around the world.  But the spirits of the land differ from place to place.

This would seem obvious: of course the spirits of the desert are different from the spirits of the jungle, and the spirits of the mountaintop are different from the spirits of the sea shore.  But if we don’t listen to the spirits of the land – either because we stay in the same place all the time or because we simply don’t slow down long enough to hear them – we may miss a great diversity of life, perhaps in our own back yard.

About 110 million years ago, what is now Glen Rose, Texas was the shoreline of a shallow sea and the home to several species of dinosaurs.  One day Pleurocoelus, a large four-legged plant eater, was chased by Acrocanthosaurus, a smaller two-legged meat eater.  We don’t know if Pleurocoelus was killed or if Acrocanthosaurus went hungry that day.  What we do know is that they left their footprints in the lime-based mud and the prints were quickly covered with a layer of clay, preserving them for eons.  In 1908 the footprints were uncovered by a flood and they’re visible today in the Paluxy River, especially in times of drought  when the river is running low and clear.

walking where dinosaurs walked

Earlier today a group from Denton CUUPS visited Dinosaur Valley State Park, which is about an hour south of Fort Worth.  We had two missions.  One was to do the usual tourist stuff:  see the land and the dinosaur tracks and take lots of pictures.

The second was to listen to the spirits of the land.

Here in this one place we had the spirits of the forest, the spirits of the river, the spirits of the birds and of insects, and the spirits of the rocks.  The land is alive.  All land is alive, but this place is more.

The land is in a transition zone.  It is neither the fertile land of the East nor the desert of the West; there is water in the river, but parts of this area are quite dry.  It is a liminal zone where it is especially easy to hear the spirits… if we’ll slow down and listen.

We call this hemisphere “the New World” because humans are very new here.  There is nothing on this continent that can compare to the 5,000 year old tombs and stone circles of the British Isles, much less the 10,000 year old Göbekli Tepe site in Turkey.  But as Cosmos so beautifully illustrated, humans haven’t been here all that long on a geological time scale.  These dinosaur tracks have been around over 20,000 times longer than Stonehenge.

Think about that for a minute.  Can you comprehend how long 110 million years is?  It’s very, very hard to do… but it’s an important concept as we try to understand our place in the grand scheme of things.

After exploring the riverbed (if you go, go early to beat the crowds and the heat), we found a quiet place and Cynthia led us in a guided meditation that was as much a prayer as it was a visualization.  I sat down, closed my eyes, and listened.  And I heard.

To say that I could identify and classify the various land spirits would be ludicrous.  But there was so much there.  Some felt similar to the spirits at my home a hundred miles away.  Some felt hot and dry like the land itself.  Some felt wild – not antagonistic to humans, but apathetic to us.  And some felt so very old.  They were there long before we came and they’ll be there long after we’re gone.

We listened, and then we spoke, and then we made offerings of food and drink.

Does that matter to them?  I don’t know.  For some I think it does, for others I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

But I do know this – it matters to us.

Blessed be this New World – a New World that is so very old.

Acrocanthosaurus track, Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose, Texas

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    Just one correction, the Americas have settlements dated as far as 20,000 years, along with monumental earthworks and cities predating the pyramids. Probably more were obliterated because they didn’t get the same level of reverence or attention by 19th century archaeology as sites in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. That’s an archaeological view. First Nations peoples place their history as deeply connected and emergent from their ancestral lands.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      It’s uncertain how long humans have been in North America. I was always taught 11-12,000 years ago, but that keeps getting pushed further and further back. The 20,000 years ago figure you quote is entirely possible. Some of the mounds are as old as Stonehenge, though I don’t think any of them approach the age of Göbekli Tepe. But we tend to overlook them because, as Amy Martin likes to say, humans are stone snobs.


      I’m uneasy trying to draw from First Nations’ myths and practices. Most consider those to be their exclusive property, and for good reason.

      But if we pay attention, the same spirits of the land that spoke to the First Nations will speak to us… particularly at places like this that are so much older than any humans.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        Thank you. My suggestion wasn’t that we should “draw from” their myths and practices, but that we should give their claims to history and place predating colonization equivalent “faith and credit” so to speak. I don’t have to believe or practice a religion to accept that claims to mythic origin, history, and continuity have value.

  • http://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/ Tommy Elf

    Excellent! Was wondering where else I might drag my camera out to….and here you point out something that’s nearly in the backyard. :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I think you’d really enjoy it, Tommy. But do go early. The crowds aren’t all that bad (though the heat can be), but it’s nice to be able to contemplate the dinosaur tracks and the spirits of the place without interruptions.

      It took us a little under 2 hours to get there from Denton UU, leaving at 7 AM on a Sunday morning. Took more like 2:15 to get back.