Chronological Lithophony

Fantastic Beasts for the Home and Garden, my course on practical intimate symbiosis, begins next weekend. We will start by becoming aware of our surroundings: listening to birdsong, meeting the local squirrels, recognizing the smells of different trees. As the course goes on, we will expand our view of ecology far out into geologic time and intergalactic space.

For example, we will talk about how plankton make presidents.

Pictured here is a map of the Southern United States several dozen million years ago. The green band is where the shoreline of this ancient Cretaceous ocean produced squimzillions of little plankton, who passed away and left behind mountains of little chalky bones.

This chalk makes excellent soil. Since the Age of Terrible Lizards, this region has experienced colonization and slavery. Here, more than anywhere else in the country, Black Americans were brought to work and suffer and die. We all know the terror and horror of this part of the story.

The unresolved but hopeful ending is, of course, that many Black Americans still live in this part of the world, and have a strong voting trend towards the blue. Every election is a retelling of this geological story, and every four years the echoes of those chalky bones are heard in the polling booth. This is how plankton make presidents.

I encourage you to consider the life of those geologies as a contemporary and passionate voice that continues to be present even after so much time. Are the rocks of the earth speaking specifically to you or to me? Perhaps not. But they are here with us and they are indeed telling stories. I invite you to listen.

To me, these stories of deep time are stunning. Another example is the pine trees of the north woods here in Minnesota. I currently live in south-central Minnesota, but during 2020 I lived on the shore of Lake Superior at North House Folk School. It is amazing to watch the boreal diversity disappear as you roll up Highway 61. The mud and silt of the Minnesota River Valley turns to slabs and cliffs of granite and the leaves all turn to needles. This is mostly due to the acidic nature of the granite on which the north shore thrives. Again, we see eons-old rhythms cycling through our daily life.

Walking along Artist’s Point in the bay of Grand Marais, you are walking across volcanic geology that is older than nearly any other earthly stone. The granite there is older than humanity, older than the dinosaurs, older than the oxygen in our atmosphere.

What would it mean to start thinking and feeling this big?

A reflective question: How has the geology of your home nurtured the person who you have become?


P.S. There’s still room in my course on practical, personal co-evolution, which starts on June 13th. I would love if you joined!