Fall Harvest Moon
Reminded yet again of the evanescence of our human life span. As I’ve driven 285 down the hill into Englewood and back up again, some days two and three times in the last week (today is a week from Kate’s trip to the E.R.), I’ve become aware of the mountains in a new way. Always I pay attention to them, rocky outcroppings of gneiss and marble, sandstone, carved by small, powerful streams and covered with lodgepole pine, ponderosa, aspen, shrubby oak. The exposed layering, sometimes all aslant, sometimes straight up and down, and in at least one very beautiful, curious instance, curved like wooden planks bent for canoe hulls, lies open like a literal book of the ages.
The new part of my experience is this, motion and upheaval. Mountains are stolid, perhaps they define stolid in a way most earthly features do not. They stay there, the same each day, Black Mountain’s peak still in the same place as it has been since we moved here four years ago. But there is that spot, just before Hwy 470, where 285 slices between the hogbacks*, then the mountains are gone, receding in the mirror as I drive on east at the very end of the Midwest, the last hurrah of the great plains.
It is there, right there. Between 80 and 85 million years ago the Laramide orogeny found tectonic plates crushing against each other in that slowest of slow dances, continental formation and reformation. The result here at the hogbacks and all along the long collection of peaks and valleys we know as the Rocky Mountains shoved formerly settled layers of the earth’s crust into the air, up from the subsurface. The power and violence of the orogeny ripples past me, past all of us on 285, especially at the cut just before it dips under 470.
Apparently immobile now, the hogbacks steeply upthrust layers show the direction of its unearthing, no longer laid down below an ancient ocean’s floor, but blinking slowly like a lithic lizard gazing at the unexpected sun. I have no trouble seeing it slowly emerge, pushed up, up, up as forces way beyond human imagining tore it out of its dark home. 80 million years ago.
And here we are, tiny creatures in small metal containers passing back and forth through it, living our 70 or 80 or 90 years, then disappearing from existence. Let’s say 80 years for ease of calculation. At 80 million years ago that’s 1,000,000 human lifetimes. I would have to live and die 1,000,000 times to know the earth like those hogbacks.
Four years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon during my episode of prostate cancer. It was a similar feeling and I’m calling this the Laramide Consolation. Our days are precious, our lives unique, our presence in the universe irreplaceable. Just like the hogbacks. We, all features of cosmic evolution, wink in and out of existence, even the Laramide Orogeny being a mayfly moment compared to the creation of our planet and its creation a blink compared to the creation of the solar system and so on back in infinite regress until that thunderous blaze of first light.
The consolation here, at least for me, is to know that our life and death expresses what the Hindus call Shiva, the ongoing destructive and creative forces that underlie all. Death is not, in other words, a cruel punctuation, but a delicate force that refreshes and renews. Our consciousness of it, of course, colors our experience but in no way changes its necessity and its pervasiveness. There will never, never be anything like true immortality, nor, if we are sane creatures, should we reach for it.
*In geology and geomorphology, a hogback or hog’s back is a long, narrow ridge or a series of hills with a narrow crest and steep slopes of nearly equal inclination on both flanks.