June 11, 2021

The field of geology can unlock a deep Dread in a similar way that the spaces between stars or the depths of the ocean can, something existential and primordial.

I have learned about the moving and colliding and buckling of tectonic plates beneath the Earth's surface, how the crust is miles thick and the heat increases with every kilometer closer to the core. The forces it would take to push mountains miles into the sky and melt and compress rock and force continents to bend and break? How impossibly heavy a mile of stone must be?

Best not to think about it. You will never be crushed by a mile of stone, or warped and metamorphosed by the heat and pressure in the depths of the earth, or anything like that.

Well.

I mean. Perhaps you will be after you are dead, if you turn into a fossil. Lots of things that were once alive and breathing are now trapped so deep in the earth we will never find them, and they will never be exposed to light again.

...Just don't worry about it.

Geologic time, too, is crushing. The Grand Canyon forms a cross-section of millions of years of geologic history. Near the bottom, there is a layer of rock from the Cambrian period, the Tapeats Sandstone--about 500 million years old, and 230 feet thick. Good? Okay. Below that, a body of impossibly old rock called the Vishnu Schist, which is hundreds of millions of years older, from the Precambrian era.

(Why? Well, there's a gap in the record called the Great Unconformity, which represents hundreds of millions of years of geologic history just straight up fucking gone. We don't know why. Maybe don't think about that either.)

Rocks from the Precambrian era are rarely exposed to the surface, which is why fossils from then are so rare--and when we find fossils, they are of living things so alien, we have no words for them. Some of the Precambrian fossils are always being slowly, inexorably annihilated in the earth's molten mantle, pressed down and forced underneath continents to meet a death beyond death.

But I don't know what chills me more--the thought of those Precambrian fossils, records of living creatures so unlike us we cannot name them, slowly being subducted into the mantle, pushed underneath miles of stone into ever-increasing heat and pressure until they are erased forever from existence, or the thought--the reality--that they are simply...still down there. Deep, deep beneath us, locked in a primordial tomb that we cannot reach because it is just...too...deep.

We can find the imprints of microscopic organisms in stone that tell us that they lived, but being pushed underneath the earth and melted into magma? That's truly irretrievable annihilation. And it happens all the time.

I'm just saying. There's a reason people thought hell lay deep beneath the earth.

For me, coming to terms with this kind of scale of personal insignificance and vast scale impermanence is an important part of self-care. I know for some, the wiser tactic is to steer clear of thinking about it, but I find if I really embrace the "This Fate" tattoo I added a few years ago (we get tattoos of things we love or aspire to love, so my tattoo is a loose translation of "Amor Fati") I am better positioned to cope with what my more immediate world confronts me with. For me, hiding from something - catching myself realize I'm distracting myself - gives that thing I'm hiding from a more power than it would otherwise have, confirms it as a potentially unmanageable threat.
A delightful take on sudden plethoras of upcoming baby announcements
Simone Biles in Extreme Slow Motion: