Friday, January 17, 2014

A Letter to the Earth from S. H. Knight, Mr. Geology of Wyoming

Dr. Samuel H. Knight in 1916, his first year on the faculty at the University of Wyoming.  By the time he retired in 1966, he had taught an estimated 10,000 students.  American Heritage Center photo.

[Note to readers: this email message arrived yesterday.  I about fell over when I read it!]

Dear Madam:

One of our recent arrivals lit up with delight when we were introduced, for he had read about me in a blog ... and of the fossilized Algal growths (stromatolites) of the high Medicine Bow Mountains.  I was quite surprised, pleasantly so, and I had to ask:  “What is a blog?”  He's still explaining.  It’s taking awhile as I knew nothing of the Web, the Internet, etc., but we don't mind.  We have plenty of time, an eternity in fact.

He showed me your articles on his little computer, and though I still don't understand how they came to be, I am absolutely delighted!  Such lovely color photographs and so realistic!!  I sincerely hope that many many readers will not only enjoy these “posts” as they’re called, but also take the information, maps, etc., and go see for themselves.  Studying the remains of two-billion-year-old tropical algae in an alpine setting was for me one of the most exciting experiences during my life on Earth.

My new friend also explained how I could contact you (with his help of course).  I am doing so in the hope that you will find of interest my poem about the Algal mats of the Medicine Bows.  It concluded the speech I delivered at ceremonies naming the “S. H. Knight Geology Building” on the University of Wyoming campus on August 2, 1974. Probably you will think it old-fashioned; after all, the lines do rhyme.  If you happen to like it, you are welcome to include it in your blog.  In any case we will continue to read In the Company of Plants and Rocks, so do blog on.  We have plenty of free time up here, and I’ve been told that our internet access is instantaneous and throughput infinite.

Samuel H. “Doc” Knight
Professor Emeritus, Department of Geology, University of Wyoming

[Doc Knight (if you happen to be reading this) -- I like the poem very much, and of course I want to share it!!]
"High near the crest of the Medicine Bows" in southeast Wyoming.

In commemoration of two billion year old Algal growth-patterns,
Nash formation, Medicine Bow Mountains

High near the crest of the Medicine Bows
Where an alpine meadow grows,
Where columbines nod azure heads
And purple gentians make their beds

Fire-scarred trunks of fallen spruce
Like giant jack-straws, scattered loose,
Etched by blasts of driven snow
As seasons come and seasons go.
... and purple gentians make their beds

Things were not always thus
Time has changed the Earthly crust,
The crust was once an ocean floor
Two billion years ago -- and more.

Bent and rent by crustal blows
Marred and scarred by glacial flows,
Sculptured by erosion’s incisive knife
The fossil remains of primal life.

Patterns spun on algal looms
Locked forever in marble tombs,
Nurtured in the ancient sea,
Prophetic of the life to be.

... nurtured in the ancient sea, prophetic of the life to be.

[This poem was included in A Collection of Verse by Samuel Howell Knight, published by his children on September 1, 1974.]
Portrait of Doc Knight, from the University of Wyoming Geology Museum.


  1. Fantastic, Hollis! I had to read it twice! I also love the last two lines, "Nurtured in the ancient sea, Prophetic of the life to be." Great post. Great blog!

    1. Thanks for the kind comments, Jack, so glad you enjoyed it! It was really neat to come across this poem as I love to hike among "our" stromatolites, and I always think about Doc Knight -- he's such a hero here.

    2. I have to add that, as a kid growing up in Central New York State, I hiked amongst "my" stromatolites embedded in limestone. I didn't find out what they were until years later and how "prophetic" they would be.