The Earth

My return journey today from Nottingham was uneventful. Louisa drove me to Nottingham Station and Jackie collected me at New Milton.

I have quoted Heraclitus’s observation that ‘all is flux, nothing stays still’, in an earlier post. There is no greater example of this than the planet on which we live, which, as Richard Fortey, so eloquently describes in his ‘Earth An Intimate History’ which I finished reading this evening. I had plenty of time on trains in the last couple of days to make considerable headway in this book which I began reading a short while ago.

The John Day Fossil Beds001

The author is clearly a considerable geologist with a gift for explaining his science in a method intelligible to the layperson. His intention is to pass on his study of tectonic plates. I do not pretend that I will be able to remember what I have learned from this book, but I did find most of it understandable. His grasp of historical and prehistorical context makes it clear that human beings have come and gone in a minuscule fraction of the life of the earth. And my memory span will pale into insignificance in comparison to the lifetime of humanity.

Fortey explains how subterranean influences determine what happens both above and below sea level. He claims that ‘the face of the earth has its character scoured upon it by the elements, but they can only work on what has been set upon the surface by forces operating in the hidden depths. He has a gift for description, and uses plentiful simile such as ‘the chances of picking up a good rock sample [ with a simple dredge ] are about the same as catching a fish with a pair of tweezers at the end of a long pole’.

Beginning with volcanoes, the writer uses different well known phenomena to illustrate the various geological conditions and effects that he covers. Finally he covers the oceans and continents as a cohesive whole.

Bay of Naples001Bay of Naples002

He begins with Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, and rounds it off neatly by finishing his summarising world tour at the same place.

A final quotation from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ reinforces the point:

‘We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.’

These illustrations are taken from my Folio Society edition of 2011, the first, of The John Day Fossils Beds National Monument, Oregon, USA,  being repeated on the cover boards.

This evening Jackie and I dined on Mr Pink’s fish and chips and pea fritters, with pickled onions and gherkins. Jackie drank Hoegaarden, and I drank Doom Bar.



  1. Good writing is good writing and anything can be a subject of literature. Your post reminds me of the biologist Marston Bates’ The Forest and The Sea; one of the best books on nature.

  2. You have inspired me to write a post about my experience with Geology. Hopefully Bruce will come up with a new pun. I like the idea of you being fascinated with Geology given all the earth moving you do in your garden.

  3. Never mind that geology stuff, just a heap of old rocks and cobblers and stuff! What I need to know is: this Pink’s Fish and Chips. Do they deliver?

  4. I have never heard of T.S. Eliot’s “Little Giddings”. Will look for it next time I’m at the library. Thanks for sharin’ ’bout it.

  5. I enjoyed plate tectonics in college. A brilliant person who can actually explain their field of study – is the ideal teacher!! Great post, Derrick.

  6. Such an interesting point! I love how you tied science and poetry together. After all, science is one way of understanding the world, and art is another.

  7. I too love geology! Thank you for sharing, and for the magnificent image. I always look in the window during the flight – it is fascinating, especially the shapes of the mountains and rivers. I will write a post one days with my ‘inflight’ photographs 🙂

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