Stanford and I have been splashing around for all of two minutes. Already, the dinosaur king of College Park has scored.
A few minutes later, Stanford picks up a bigger slice of brown rock. He thumbs mud out of an impression the length of his index finger. “I can guarantee that’s a toe,” he says. The mark is smeared, indistinct. I’m not sure I believe him.
But Stanford has a special visual talent. He sees things other people don’t.
A week later, Stanford e-mails. After further inspection, he has decided that this seemingly unspectacular find is “a WONDERFUL specimen of a running, turning-left-at-high-speed dromeosaurid footprint.”
Popularly known as velociraptors — and made famous by “Jurassic Park” — these little dromeosaurids darted about on two feet, arms tucked, slender tails bobbing.
Here, in the desultory woods behind a Prince George’s County high school, along a creek bed littered with dented Coors Light cans and bent cafeteria spoons and spent Doritos bags, one of these knee-high speedsters hung a quick left 112 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous era.
It was fleeing a snapping carnivore! It was chasing a fish! Or maybe it was just out for a run.
Stanford’s imagination fills in the blanks. It’s what he does.
Wiry, voluble, energetic 73-year-old Ray Stanford could almost pass for a paleontologist. But his hair is a little too short, his beard too trim, his button-down shirt too tucked. And he talks too fast. This Texan is an amateur, although he disdains that term. He’s self-taught, a gentleman naturalist.
And now he’s leading me to the Stanford Museum: his living room. Worried about thieves, Stanford asks me not to disclose the location of the rambling, white, three-story farmhouse, circa 1870, that he shares with his wife, Sheila, who works as an information specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
In we go, through a dim foyer.
Boom! It’s like a rock quarry exploded, threw up a great whirling cyclone of stone — flat pieces, round ones, some smaller than a coaster, some bigger than a dinner plate, smooth pieces and jagged ones, triangles, rectangles, crazy irregular shapes, dun, gray, tan, ochre, charcoal, splashes of purple and streaks of yellow — and deposited the whole shebang into a great flowing river of rock.
The river bears left from the door, growing higher, overtaking a wooden chair, then up onto the radiator and back behind a big easy chair, sloping into a rampart against the wall, reaching up almost to the window, then across a bookcase and over a floor-standing speaker and further, up onto a shelf, heading for the ceiling in the far corner.