Many who have wandered along the beach in Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador have encountered a rare gift. Sitting down for a rest, we gaze around and are confronted with a magnificent mosaic of colour and pattern. Leaning down, we pick up a rock and examine its rich colours, contours and interesting textures.
Most often we lay it back down, simply intrigued by the display. Sometimes, we pocket it, a memoir of beauty, retained to hold the memory of the moment. But little more. However, if we focus more keenly, we realise how rocks hold secrets. For they are the sacred embodiment of time. More importantly, they hold lessons, ones we can glean if we heed.
A Matter of Time
Many of us understand time in cycles tied to seconds and minutes. Often we find ourselves speaking with someone on the phone, assuring them it’ll only take half an hour to reach some destination, a friend or a shop. Rushed for time, we beg for someone to give us “just a sec” and we’ll be able to get something done. Our conception of time matches our lives, the daily round of time in which we live. It makes sense.
Rocks obey a much longer cycle of time. For us, once we go beyond these conceptions of time, we invariably lose track. It ceases to make sense. Months and years are marginally concievable, but anything beyond seems infinitesimal. But for rocks, they’re formation is a process on the scale of millions of years.
Given the region where I live, our rocks stem from a violent time of volcanic eruptions, heaving rocks, something that took place hundreds of millions of years ago—the Cambrian and Ediacaran Periods, between around 488 and 630
million years ago (mya). Go around the world and the story will be the same. Such a span of time is incomprehensible to us.
The Span of Time
And yet, if we touch those rocks, running our hands over their surface, in so doing, we are essentially compressing time. Those millions of years sit in our hands at that very moment. So a nigh unlimited past coalesces into a present. It’s like our lives. No matter what has occurred in our past. Eventually, when we look in a mirror, all that past coalesces into what we see before us. For rocks, the roaring overflow of magma and crush of the rocks is over. Gone. For us, we are left with the silence and peace of the here and now.
Similarly, rocks broaden our conception of time. We pick up that rock along the beach. Having looked at the qualities of coarse grains flowing through the rock, inter-swirling with finer compositions, we ponder. And we recognise that the changes we’re looking at must’ve occurred over a vast amount of time.
Change Takes Time
We look back a mere ten to fifteen thousand of years to a glacial period when kilometres of ice glided over places such as Newfoundland and Labdrador. In doing so, it left evidence of its presence in the erratics1 or striations2 left behind. We may look at a landscape in which these formations and many more speak of actions in the past. What we realise most extraordinarily is how it didn’t happen overnight. For rocks, it often took upwards of thousands of years.
In our own lives, we realise how change takes time. Maybe there’s something we’re hoping to alter in our lives. Perhaps we’ve just taken a new job. It’s possible some of us are trying desparately to stop smoking, under- or over-eating, drinking alcohol, beginning a new relationship. There may be any number of shifts to our lives. They all take time. Like those rocks do over the millennia, over a much shorter span of time—weeks, months or years—we will take the time and magically evolve, transforming into a quintessence of beauty.
Time in a Transforming World
Rocks also provide an obvious indication that the world was once a very different place. Some rocks possess linear layers of fine and then coarse grained inclusions. These are what geologists refer to as sedimentary rocks, evidence of processes such as erosion, weathering and precipitation. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, rivers may transported grains of sand, depositing them in some location, perhaps a delta. Over time, these gradually hardened through lithification. So, in the present, we encounter these rocks with little knowledge of the immense pressure from those above that were required to create them. We are at peace, looking around us as the birds sing, the water gently lapping along the coast.
In much the same way, we need to take a moment to appreciate how the world in which we exist is far different from how it was in the past. What we experience in our present are mere reflections of how things were in the past. Similar to rocks, they offer hints of what took place in their past. However, it is just that, it is simply an important reminder of from where we come. No more or no less. It is no longer who we are in the present. Like those rocks, we go forward, creating a new entity or self, developing and transforming throughout the beauty of time.
Rocks are subtle in how they have been woven in the warp and weft of time. Nonetheless, it is there if we gaze deeply enough. Still, they are lessons that can provide a map for us to navigate our way into the unknown and innermost recesses of our future.
1Rock pieces that differ in composition, etc., from the rock surrounding it, having been transported from its place of origin, esp by glacial action.
2Striations are lines which were ground onto rock surfaces by glacial ice moving over them. These often give a sense of the direction and orientation of the overlying ice.