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.