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  • Writer's pictureRobert Adams

Finding Petrified Wood

Updated: Feb 1

AS A 10-YEAR-OLD I came with curiosity for anything out-of-doors. I often imagined that I was chosen to participate in the Universe's magic. True joy was found in my many discoveries, and I loved being included in the many adventures that arose.

High on my list of outdoor activities was playing in the tree-filled vacant lots in my neighborhood. Thankfully, a few of them remained, not yet transformed with large homes and expansive green lawns. These undeveloped lots were my wilderness and playgrounds. They offered a variety of trees, vines, and plants in a site filled with so many earthly wonderments.

One of the lots a block from my house became the scene for an amazing find that still astonishes me to this day. I’m wondering if the discovery was only my active imagination. But I know the exact location where the event took place - Hupp Cross and Sunnydale Roads (Yes, it now has a house on it). I’m sticking with this detailed recollection because all the participants in the story except me have moved on to their happy hunting grounds and can’t help me with its authenticity - a perfect gift for a memoir writer.

It was late afternoon, a neighborhood buddy, Bruce Kostere and I were playing on the wooded lot. We were trying to throw a rope high into the branches of one of its larger trees. Success was not coming to us. We both took turns trying to loop the rope's end over the large branches of our tree. I’m not sure what we would have done had we been successful. Our attention was completely focused on our task as we peered upward trying to calculate the trajectory needed for our tosses. Quite by surprise, I tripped over an object that was jutting up from the ground near the base of our large tree. I ended up flat on my fanny. We laughed out loud, both finding my clumsiness more than amusing.

I recovered and immediately brushed away the debris from the object I had fallen over which revealed a hard surface with sparkling patterns of gold, brown, and tan. I had never seen anything like it. I first thought it was a large gold nugget. It was twice the size of my calf. As our excitement soared, we concluded that we had found something of value. It was our treasure, and we had unearthed it by pure accident.

In our excitement, we began developing a plan and decided not to tell any of our friends for fear of them pilfering our find. We concluded that we needed an adult to help us with what to do next. My dad was our choice. Though he was a medical doctor and Bruce’s family physician he was good at solving these mysteries.

We immediately reburied our object using handfuls of loose forest debris and cautiously checked over our shoulders for uninvited eyes coming from surrounding homes.

After dinner that very day Dad was now fully aboard in helping us determine what we had found in the woods. He was excited for us. We headed over to Hupp Cross in his white Buick to pick up Bruce and soon we were parked next to the wooded lot. Dad brought a shovel, blanket, and powerful flashlight, the one he used to find addresses during his nighttime house calls. To our utter relief the object was still there.

At the base of our tree Dad bent down and used the flashlight to tap on the object, then with his hands, he touched the surface and announced, “I’ll be damned.” My excitement intensified, if that was possible.“I’d say you boys have yourself a nice sample of petrified wood.” Bruce and I acted like a couple of five-year-old kids. Then we asked what was petrified wood and how did it get here?

Dad continued,“Likely it was brought south from Canada during our areas glacial formation.” I’m assuming we had learned about this in school, but Dad’s declaration made this more than real.

Dad then volunteered that he would run it over to Cranbrook Science Museum during his rounds on Wednesday morning at the Kingswood School where he tended to sick kids. How exciting was this to find something this ancient by accident?

The museum confirmed our findings and offered $20 for the 12” by 18” solid rock. They would then chip away samples, polish them, and sell them in the gift store to help support the museum. Bruce and I were so very proud and happily split our earnings.

I’m now wondering if Dad didn’t donate the petrified wood and pitch in the $20 on his own?

Thank you to whoever paid us.


Writer’s note: A little plug for this amazing suburban museum. I must visit again soon.

"Every Rock Has a Story presents information on the materials that make up the Earth and the processes that have shaped the globe over time. Was Michigan once located in the tropics? Will California crumble into the Pacific Ocean? The earth is constantly changing right under your feet and the exciting results range from earthquakes and volcanoes to granite and diamonds. Whether it's a tiny crystal or a massive mountain, rocks and minerals reveal our planet's history and offer clues to our future as plates shift, minerals grow, volcanoes erupt, and earthquakes shake."


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