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Beginnings (long)

Hello all,

Lately we've been discussing what got us interested in dinosaurs in
particular and ancient life as a whole. These stories of individual
attraction are good reading and have a measure of entertainmant value. In
other words I like them. So, I add my tale to the telling. Please consider
the source!

I spent the early years of my life growing up in north central Arkansas,
where nearly every rock has a fossil from mostly the Mississippian Epoc in
it. My father, a woodsman and hillbilly naturalist, would often bring home
the more unusual forms of these fossils. Having no access to reference
books or learned mentors or natural history museums we often formed our own
conclusions as to the nature of these specimens. While these opinions were
wrong, consistantly, we knew these fossils were vastly older than anything
living in our world, but yet had been very alive at some point in time.

Luckily for me our hillbilly school teacher had reference books about
dinosaurs and we spent a good deal of time on these amazing animals from
the past. Many of the ideas of behavior have changed dramatically, lay em n
leave em parental care, slow sluggish lifestyles, too cumbersome to be in
any way intelligent. Nevertheless this teacher made these creatures seem
alive and vibrant. I was "hooked" on dinosaurs by the second grade. This
was in the year 1959.

When I was about 9 or 10 we visited the museum in Price, Utah and I saw my
first mounted dinosaur, a Allosaur. That speimen "hooked" me. I was a lover
of all dinos from that momnet on. I even remarked that to dig up and
display such ancient creatures would be the coolest thing ever. My parents,
naturally, assumed this was just the excited talk of a child.

After a derailed adolescense of the 60's, caused by the revolutionary and
confrontational social upheaval of the times, I found comfort in the
blindness to "truth" nurtured by the fundamentalist christian movement. I
studied the bible and went to a private college to prepare me for the
ministry. I threw myself into this field, and became an ordained Baptist
minister, and pastored a small church. I can still quote bible passages as
easily as some of you use the real names of dinosaurs!

After a failed marriage, and the failure of a God I placed so much faith in
to restore the confidence that he would not allow such pain to enter into
the life of one of his "choosen ones", I started seeking other answers.

I met my current wife, Kelly, and discovered that the basic truth that a
happy life is one that you make for yourself. We went, without more to
guide us than Discovery Channel programming, to the Shirley Basin of SW
Wyoming, looking for dinosaur bones. We camped out, found all sorts of
things besides dinosaurs, shark teeth, squid bodies, and the like, and was
I getting frustrated. We just happen to stop by the Fossil Cabin on the way
to Laramie. The owner told us to look at the Como Bluff area, just  a few
miles out of the way. We did, and I found a huge Sauropod femur, barely
exposed. I started to try to dig it out, and quickly realized I was making
a grave error.  We went home and I called the geologial survey in Wyoming
and reported what I'd found.

I then subscribed to this list and made the errors of ignorance most
rookies make. I let my ego and my ignorance keep me from learnig at the
guidance of those that knew of which they spoke. Such mouthing off lead me
to the dig operated by Dino Russ Jacobson and Dr. Steven Sroka. The first
year, '95,  my patient and loving wife went along and endured a summer from
hell in the Hell Creek Fm. We recovered dinosaur bones, and interacted with
those that shared the same interests. I was "re-hooked" even though the
work in the field that summer would test the most dedicated as temperatures
exceeded 100 degrees F. every day.

Now, after learnig to think before typing hot responses to this list, and
how truely difficult field work is, I can call myself a dinosaur worker
with humble appreciation. Even more astounding is the fact that my dream of
childhood is about to come true. The landowners were we have been working,
the community of Lemmon, SD, and the leaders of the fieldwork, have formed
a new non-profit museum to preserve and display the natural history if the
Grand River Valley.  I now have the distinct honor of being the assistant
to the director, Steven Sroka, and we, Kelly and I, will soon be relocating
to South Dakota to begin an entirely new career in paleontology.

I know I've written messages to the list that were to many of you, well a
stack of corpolites. Please consider this a blanket apology for those
messages that were offensive or ignorant. I still feel there is a place for
the collectors aside from museums. I have never thought that selling
important specimens or illegal collections were "cool". I've even bitched
about fossil thieves that threaten "my" area, and equally about those
professionals that want the dinosaur cake and to eat it too. Hopefully I
will continue to believe there is a place for all those that love
dinosaurs, and can influence those that collect soley for the money to
abide by the rules and seek to further the science of paleontology.

As I am sure I will be seeking assitance from this forum on repeated
occasions in the future I want to make it clear that I am by no means an
expert in any area of paleontology. I do have a good leader in Dr. Sroka,
and will no doubt bother him too much with trivial questions. I just want
to state for the record that the love of these long dead creatures has lead
me to the point that I'm as happy as I have ever been in my life. It's been
a long dusty road, and I'm not "home" yet, but I'm a lot closer than I was
4 years ago.

Thank you to all of you that have abided my rantings without flames, and
even to those of you that did indeed heat things up. I have learned much.
JP and LW had very little to do with my current situation, but I liked the
stop motion movies of old and the computer generated movies of late.
Mistakes, don't we all make too many?

Roger A. Stephenson
Assistant Director
The Grand River Museum
Lemmon, South Dakota