Getting Used to Living in Time (The Intimate Lives of Rocks and Grass)

Let’s read a common thing …

… in its context.

Grass. It’s green and blows in the wind.

It bends and sways, this one.

It… clumps.

West Arrowstone

Deer wander through it.

A Meandering River of Deer in the Thompson Grasslands

They do this for thousands of years in the same spot. Bunch of followers, deer are. They follow their ancestors in an unbroken chain. Even when they’re not present, you can see them there. They flow through time. Sure, Canadian European culture, rooted in Celtic images, might call that “land” instead of time, and that is a wise and ancient interpretation, but it’s also time, and by that I don’t mean the cyclical, recurring time of celtic experience, with new life coming from the dead and all …

Knives  Cutting Their Way into the Sky: the Great Mystery

… and which European culture loves to call “the cyclical time of primitive man” or “the time of eternal return.” Celtic stuff that is. Ancient. But it’s not the whole story. What I’d like to show today is time all at once, as a landscape. Thousands of years of it. Not flat space but deep space. You might call that “story”, in the sense of a narrative that does not move in space, and so does not have the plot arcs that space-based narrative has.

The Hard Way up Cougar Head, Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

Of course, there’s some of that good old linear time narrative showing there, what with the line of rocks that gravity has drawn down the slope and my puffing scramble up against their current, but I’d like to show today how that is contained within the depth of time. To do that, let’s look at a lake. Lakes kind of sit there. Waves lap. Things grow on the shore. That kind of thing.

Big Bar Lake Grassland

Nice lake, huh. Yessss, it’s a rock. But yesssss, it’s a lake. A lake is a læk, as the Icelanders put it, a lick as our mouths put it, and all-in-all not water sitting in a pool but the act of pooling the water sits in. It is an active zone of energy. To read it as space, yes, you get this:

Big Bar Lake at Dawn

To read it in time, this will do just as well:

Big Bar Lake Grassland

Not only do waves of water wash off the shore of this stone lake but waves of grass and ants wash against it. It’s kind of a shore within a shore and a lake within a lake, but no less a lake for that. The Celtic-inspired European imagination would readily point out that the stone is sinking into the earth, or being pushed up out of it by frost, or has been left there by a glacier, but here’s the thing. It’s not precisely sinking into the earth (a kind of repository of dead time, a kind of potential for rebirth.)

Pebble on the Big Bar Esker

Look at it there. The power of gravity is anchoring it, but not in the earth. In life. That’s the macrobiotic crust, the living skin of the earth in this grassland. So, look again. Colonial science calls the lakes below …


…broken bits of basalt carved off, dragged across the earth and deposited by glaciers, and, sure, they’re that, but they are also complex and interlocking lake systems that form further lakes of life at the same time they are being swallowed by them. This is intimate stuff. So, let’s clamber up the esker and look more closely at the processes that create this amazing deepening of time.

Above: The crust is cut by rain and snowmelt etching around stones and plants.

Below: notice a) how plants that gravity has drawn over the stones stop waves from splashing off the rock, and b) how the microbial crust is pushed up in waves to the left.

The image below shows how an entire lake can move without ceasing to be a lake.


Above: gravity has drawn the stone downslope in the wet season. In turn, it has created a flow in the microbial crust. An avalanche of life, really.

Below: When the crust is in a more developed form, it stops the lake in its tracks. In this case, the splash takes the form of tendrils branching out along the lines of force.


This is all the work of water and gravity, perhaps, but no less amazing for that.

Above: Two colliding lakes a) are stopped by a combination of microbial crust and rooted plants and b) create water flows at their intersection with divert the flow off the left side of the upper stone into the tilled ground to the far left, effectively making a shadow lake but the opposite of the water lake to the right.

Below: Lakes are capture basins. Look how deer droppings are captured and held in the channels splashing waves of snow melt have created around the late-winter, sun-bared stone (still surrounded by glaciers of snow) and rain have created around the lake. This capturing is a powerful force.

There is, of course, a space-based narrative of time at work here, but look at its specific, deep-time character…

Above: dung pooling around (caught by) the lake has reproduced the lake in a flowering parsley.

Below: The same is at work with a yarrow. Here, though, the water flowing downslope and around the stone, along the slowing length of a blade of grass behind a glacier of snow, has sorted the gravel out of the finer silts and left it behind. The silts lie just below it, in a delta splashed over the grass. In effect, the grass is a sea here, catching a river and slowing it in channels of reeds, or, well, thatch.

There is always this sorting, cutting and binding again. There is always this weaving. It’s not as if the stones are sinking into the soil, but that life is harvesting their energy in place.

Look how kinnikinnik uses a lake island of stone in the grassland sea as the sun. Only here, in this pool of energy, can it thrive in this cold, high grassland.

Can you spot the small mammal trail, that carries this energy in a net across the grass?

Yes, a net.

Like this:

Water Beetles and Sedges in a Beaver Channel, Big Bar Creek

Like this:

Big Bar Creek Wetland

And you’ll have it about right. Over time, these effects deepen further. In the warmer (ie older) landscape of the Thompson, the story is deeper yet.

And so is the sea of life.

In time, rock is an active force. In space, it is inert: something you pass over.

West of Mauvais Rocher

While you really flow within.


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