Mind Matters — Timefulness

If the present and the future of individuals and families are heavily influenced by past history, it should be no surprise that earth itself is likewise dependent upon time. Geologist Marcia Bjornerud, in her book, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, addresses the intersection of the multigenerational history of humanity with the planet. “… if more people understood our shared history and destiny as Earth dwellers, we might treat each other, and the planet, better,” says Bjornerud.

Astronauts see earth from space as one unified sphere; natural scientists, such as geologists, consider earth beyond the boundaries of political regimes, “unified by the fact that we are all citizens of a planet whose tectonic, hydrologic, and atmospheric habits ignore national boundaries.”

I am reminded in a personal way, how, for example, property boundaries are an artifact of our own making. We forget that the divisions of “ownership” of land do not take into account the continuous ecostructure and landscape that defies such categorizations. Years ago, in Western Pennsylvania, we lived in a little house on a hill and five acres. Next “door” to us—at quite a distance—was a church which decided to build a huge roofed picnic grove on land a little higher than ours. The result of building this structure without any consideration for water runoff meant that when it rained, a depression on our property would overflow and pour into our basement. We deepened the depression into a gully. The church did nothing to rectify the runoff.

On a much more macro scale, Bjornerud is addressing, not only how the geology and the geography of the present are interconnected, but also how the distant past plays a part. Just as our genetics connect us to our ancestors as well as to relatives now, the geology connects us to our need to preserve our earth’s resources for future generations.

Her contention is that we live for immediate gratification and consume and take in the now, not considering our deep roots in the past and the needs of the future—our future generations, the future of the earth upon which we live. In other words, “… our blindness to the presence of the past in fact imperils our future.”

Even in the 1950’s, I remember a teacher noting how clear cutting of trees in the 1700’s and 1800’s destroyed whole forests.

In 1970, I remember taking a ferry to Nantucket. As beautiful as that island and its beaches are, its whaling history is ugly. Whales were so hunted and killed that they are now suffering to survive.

I remember, too, taking my pre-teen children to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania one bright, cold, snowy day before Thanksgiving. The sunlight on the snow was magical and the solitude there that day felt sacred. Yet the tragedy of that site is etched in various historical markers. At one time, thousands of hawks would congregate there during migration. However, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, hunters began shooting them down en masse, until few were left. Now hundreds of birders congregate to spot the few hawks that still migrate.

My anecdotal experiences directly relate to Bjornerud’s concern how actioins in the moment can how tragic consequences for the future.

Bjornerud has a profound respect for the vastness of time. If we live only for immediacy—like a toddler’s demand for “I want it now”—we lose sight of our familial ancestral heritage. We also lose sight of what we need to bequeath to our descendants, our future generations. What earth do we want our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren to inherit?

The actions we do or don’t do now will carry into the future—our descendants will have not only our DNA but also have to deal with whatever earth we leave behind.