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  Field Notes From
The Big Bloom



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From Author

Mike Klesius



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From Photographer

Jonathan Blair



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top), Jonathan Blair
 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
The Big Bloom

Field Notes From Author
Mike Klesius
Best Worst Quirkiest
I never really thought about the Big Horn Basin in north-central Wyoming until I found myself headed there to dig for angiosperm fossils with Smithsonian paleobotanist Scott Wing and his team. Scott had discovered a locality called Big Cedar Ridge where spectacularly preserved angiosperm fossils from the end of the Cretaceous period could be found. The sheer quantity and quality of the more than 70-million-year-old fossils at Big Cedar Ridge—extinct angiosperm leaves, stems, and flower parts along with cones and needles from conifers—was enough to amaze anyone. They provided a crystal clear window into prehistory. And the vistas in the Big Horn Basin were matchless: the snow-capped Big Horn Mountains to our east, essentially forming Wyoming’s Front Range; the Beartooth Mountains to the west, hiding Yellowstone. At night we sat under a pitch-black sky and counted shooting stars by the minute. It was a place where time, and many other things, seemed not to exist at all.

In the heat of August I went to Beijing, the hottest and most polluted place I’ve ever been. The burning of coal and oil creates a summer smog that lies like wet cement on China’s capital city. We headed northeast by train to Liaoning Province, a region rich in Cretaceous fossils. Thirteen sweltering hours later, in the middle of the night, I stepped onto the platform at Beipiao’s train station into a surprisingly large crowd of people. They were hanging around the platforms and outside the front of the station to escape the heat of the indoors. Another hour’s drive on bumpy roads brought us to our hotel. I had never wondered how hot China might be in August. And now I’ll never forget.

It’s a stretch calling a global industry quirky until you’ve visited the Aalsmeer Flower Auction outside Amsterdam. Its four auction halls, shaped like steep auditoriums, fill up at dawn with flower vendors ready to inspect and purchase large quantities of fresh-cut flowers shipped from all over the world. It looks nothing like other auctions. No waving of arms. No hollering out. No veiled signals like a nod or a tug on the ear. Instead the process is handled electronically, with each vendor seated at a low lectern. Huge round dials on the front walls begin at a high price and descend until someone pushes a button to submit a bid. The scene has the feel of a bingo hall. Carts of flowers move into the auditoriums on automated rails at the front of the room, then back out into a cavernous warehouse that could fit a hundred football fields under its roof, complete with tractor trailers moving back and forth. On their sides read Dutch names with prefixes hinting at the nature of their business: flori- here, bloem- there. Employees race through the warehouse on the signature Dutch mode of transportation—the bicycle, what you might call “Petal Power.”



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