It was a steamy tropical land south of the equator; swamps, mountains, high rainfall, a primal jungle teaming with the land-pioneers – insects. Amphibians came ashore to harvest the vegetation and insects and some evolved to stay on land. They were the very first vertebrates to colonise the land; lizard-like Tetrapods crawling and slithering through the mud. The high rain fall brought floods of silt from the mountains, quickly filling and burying the tracks of the Tetrapod.
Over the millennia those tracks became encased in sedimentary rocks and those rocks moved. The great planetary upheavals that saw tectonic plates pull the land apart causing it to drift across the mantle north and east and west until the earth-shapes we know now, were created. Erosion and more upheaval revealed the place where the Tetrapod roamed. His tracks exposed to the curious eye of one of his distant evolutionary off -spring. Another vertebrate, very recently evolved upon the earth, stood and gazed in wonder at the track in the rock and saw that this was special. Experts descended and applied their science and with awe they proclaimed: These are the oldest known in-situ footprints on this earth.
Now on the most westerly tip of the old-world, the edge of Europe, Valencia Island, County Kerry, Ireland – I stand and gaze at these tracks and am awestruck by their significance and puzzled by the fact that on a busy holiday weekend in August, in glorious sunshine, B and I are alone. There is no line of people waiting to see this wonder. There are no others here to see the marks of our ancestor and wonder at the passage of such a vast amount of time – 385 million years! We are always alone when we come here.
The island crawls with visitors and tourists but they are here to see much more recent marvels; the monastic building on the remote Skellig isles; the site where Saint Brendan the navigator baptised islanders; the place where the Great Eastern set sail to lay the second attempt at a transatlantic telegraph cable; the radio and metrological site where Marconi’s work bore fruit.
Valencia and the Skellig coast are truly beautiful and full of history. We come here to recharge out batteries every few years. It’s an easy two and half hour drive from home but we usually stay over in some friendly B&B.
This time it was the Calafont with it’s wonderful views over the sound from Portmagee to Valencia.
As we wandered in the old church yard, where so many who served the British Empire on the remote Valencia radio and cable station worked and died, I was struck by the thought that this island should be world famous for the awesome Tetrapod tracks. The evidence in rock of the miracle of evolution that lead to the birth of creatures that could span the earth with first their cables, then radio and now the instant medium carrying these words – is that not truly awe inspiring? Where are the queues of keen young minds wanting to see the wonder of their distant ancestor’s tracks?
They are instead marvelling at the work of monks who built a doomed edifice on a sharp rock in a hostile sea to escape earthly things and there to worship myths and legends that violently divided people then and still do. Those monks didn’t look far enough back in time to find the majesty and awe inspiring works of creation in this place. They couldn’t see. We can, so why do we not see? Why do we stand on the edge of the old world and gaze with wonder at the great ocean and the new world beyond and prefer myths and legends, man-made from ignorance, to the wonder and majesty of life here at our feet?