This is very cool--a news story about a fossilized forest covering 40 square miles. It's in the ceilings of a coal mine, and even a picture of a single fossil looks pretty impressive, with the fossil coal-black against the lighter stone. But 40 square miles--picture that (that's 8 miles by 5 miles or 4 by 10 or whatever--go ahead and relate that to where you live a second....OK. Pretty impressive, eh?).
Can you imagine being the miners who looked up and saw this? The article says that miners frequently find individual fossils on the ceilings of veins of coal, but think about your reaction when he realize it just goes on, interconnected, still preserving the spaces between different types of trees and vegetation. Or imagine if people from a time when science hadn't already accustomed them to the idea of millions of years of fossil history--what might they have made of this forest of stone?
I've always been fascinated with the types of forests that scientists believe were on earth at the time of dinosaurs and earlier. OK, I admit it, I've always been fascinated by forests regardless. Once I used a fern-dominated forest in a story, but after reading this I find myself really wanting to use something like that again.
In a similar vein, another recent article on MSNBC was about a fossil of a twenty-foot tall fungus that grew at a time when the biggest trees were only a few feet high. Yikes!