My New Book

Sorry to be so self promotional but I reckon that’s what your personal blog is all about. My first book was released last month, if you’re interested in fossils, living crocodiles, outdoor travel or the environment, check it out here.

Here’s a short clip from the introduction of my book to give you a feel for my narrative non-fiction style.

The inspiration to write this book came from my firsthand experiences with crocodilian fossils. I worked for years in a business where the skeleton of a giant crocodilian (Deinosuchus sp.) lurked in the corner of a side building. Occasionally when I passed by, I would stop and ponder this specter of the distant past. Another experience that haunted me was a childhood stop at the Okefenokee Swamp on a family road trip to Disney World. I remember little of Mickey Mouse, but I can still picture an enormous alligator lying in the water in the rain as the child I was stared with awe.

More recently, I was volunteering at Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas on my own time in exchange for a free RV spot and the opportunity to observe wild alligators and their habitat. While I was at Aransas I called up Tom Lindgren of Geo Décor, a paleontology company in Tucson, Arizona, where I had done fossil preparation work in the past. Lindgren told me about a Eocene crocodilian just discovered that summer in Wyoming. That crocodilian ended up being a large fossil preparation project for me, taking up almost as much time and effort as writing this book.

Texas wasn’t the last trip I made while researching this book. I traveled to Nepal to find the rare, long-snouted crocodilian gharials and mugger crocodiles in the jungle. In South Carolina I volunteered for alligator behavioral research on golf courses. I canoed Okefenokee in Georgia and I visited the Everglades to see the environment American alligators and American crocodiles share. This is the only place where knowing what is the difference between crocodiles and alligators is useful because you might see both animals. Even in the Everglades, crocodiles, with their more pointed snouts and toothier closed mouths, mostly stay out of alligators’ fresh water, opting for salt.

Most of the time I was writing this book, I was also working on the Wyoming crocodilian fossil at Geo Décor in Tucson. Day after day I sat hunched before a vertical slab of stone higher and wider than I am tall, held in a steel support frame. First, with an air-powered chisel I chipped away at the tan-colored stone. Later I blasted the fossil clean with a stylus shooting a stream of white powder— dolomite—to reveal bones ranging from milk chocolate to dark chocolate tones in color. The skull appeared bit by bit, teeth stabbing out at me. The twist of spine, curving and broken appeared like a dark pagan tattoo, thorned with chevrons inked into the pale flesh of rock. Day after day I sat by a garage door, fans blowing over me, forcing the dust outside; although much circled back, settled onto the floor, into my hair, onto my face, and all over my clothes.

The work was like a long road trip—lots of sitting with occasional small movements. There were also many things to discover beneath each layer of rock peeled back. Slowly, over long months stretching to more than half a year, the strange skeletal form of the crocodilian was revealed, a relic of a massive tropical Wyoming lake. Seeing the small details made all the work, the days of monotony, heat, and dust, worth it…

Deinosuchus sp. skull cast at Gaston Design, where I work.

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