Recently a friend whom I shall refer to as “Waylon” asked if I wanted to go see a petrified log he had run across in the Homochitto National Forest.
You can guess my response. I jump at just about any chance to get out of the office — I mean, to explore important journalistic topics.
So on Tuesday afternoon, with cool fall weather, we set out in my truck.
I had my camera and notebook, of course, but this guy doesn’t want his name or photo in the paper. “If I want anybody to know my business, I’ll tell them myself,” he growled.
He quoted lyrics from “Good Ol’ Boys,” the theme song from the old TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” by Waylon Jennings:
“I’m a good ol’ boy. You know my mama loves me. But she don’t understand they keep a-showin’ my hands and not my face on TV.”
OK, so Waylon it is.
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We followed winding roads deep into the Homochitto Forest, then turned onto a narrow gravel lane. Waylon pointed out a logged-out area resulting from a Southern pine beetle infestation, one of many scattered throughout the forest. The U.S. Forest Service is using a “cut-and-leave” approach, cutting the pines and leaving them to rot. (See article below.)
We stopped at a pullover and walked down the road, cutting into the woods at an old skidder trail that followed a ridge downhill. In about 100 yards, Waylon stopped and pointed to a big, fat log — 10 feet long, 2 1/2 feet thick.
I never would have noticed it. It looked like any other log — sprinkled with leaves, pinestraw, moss and dirt. But when I tried to stick a knife into it, it was hard as rock. I scraped off the dirt-darkened outler layer to reveal bright, pale stone.
I grabbed one end and gave a tug: It felt as heavy as granite.
Waylon had run across it when turkey hunting a few years ago. He doesn’t recall what grabbed his attention, but he’s the kind of country boy who notices just about everything involving the outdoors.
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The presence of petrified wood in the Homochitto Forest is well known. Some huge chunks are on display at the Okhissa Lake picnic area.
It’s also found elsewhere around the state, to the point that it’s the official state rock. There’s even a petrified forest at the town of Flora.
A tree fossilizes when it’s submerged and buried, thus avoiding decay. Natural silica crystals in the wood attract other crystals to form a quartz-like texture.
This log wasn’t buried and it was far above a streambed. I checked with Dr. George Phillips, paleontology curator at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, and asked him how it fossilized when it was on a ridge.
“It would have been a floodplain once upon a time. Wood is fossilized in alluvial floodplains,” Phillips explained.
“Sea level used to be much higher and has been gradually retreating from the Mississippi River Valley.”
The age of petrified wood in Mississippi could range from several thousand years to 95 million, he said.
This log looked like it was in the younger category, as the butt was still woody, while most of it was hard as rock.
Waylon broke off a small chunk to examine the inner, fossilized part of the wood.
Of course, that may have violated some sort of federal law. As Waylon Jennings sang, “Just the good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm. Beats all you never saw, been in trouble with the law since the day they was born.”