01 December, 2010

We awoke at a juncture of epochs...

backdate: 28 November

Monument Creek "G" campsite
image © Marcus Collado (used by permission)

One perk of hiking in the dark is that morning reveals a new and surprising landscape. Down to the creek to wash breakfast dishes we trod the narrow trail a fourth time; only now could we see what lay around us. Where a seam of mica had caught Kara's headlamp the night before, the glittering mineral lay within granite, marking an important geologic transition. 

The campsites at Monument Creek, named for a stone pinnacle perhaps a hundred feet tall, lie just above the boundary where tapeats sandstone, dated at 545 million years old, meets a layer of crystalline (metamorphic) rock dated 1.7 billion years old. The pinnacle itself showcases this juxtaposition. 

image © Marcus Collado (used by permission)

In many ways, it feels as though descent into the Grand Canyon is a form of time travel, a form most grueling for the legs. I'm sorry if this is offensive to Biblical literalists and young-earth creationists, but the canyon brings up a concept i can't quite contain. It certainly evokes an awe at the majesty of Creation, and for me it evokes a sense of immensity of both spatial and temporal scale. Seeing layer after layer of rock formations on our descent made concepts of the canyon's age inescapable; it lent geologic time a certain immediacy difficult to put into words. Imaging, if you will the time it takes to form a single layer of sandstone, compressed from ancient sea-floor sediments, in turn weathered from still older mountains. Now imagine that red sandstone as the second in a series of nine or more layers, laid down one by one, each process resting on the process before. Feeling tiny yet? 

When i was young, i used to believe in ex nihilo creationism - specifically the idea that a supreme being spoke the earth into existence in six days, around 6,000 years ago - and studiously censor natural history books (which i otherwise devoured) with a black Sharpie. One explanation for the apparent age of earth - an explanation hauled out by young-earth creationists staring at these layers of rock - is that God created earth to appear old, a test of faith for some, a damning untruth for those not chosen and called to faith. These days i think more critically. What God would create apparent evidence of his absence, damning those who believed the apparent? What God would deliberately lie to his creatures? The intellectual contortions necessary for me to believe six-day creationism make me think such a God-concept is, like all concepts, a flawed and imperfect construction of the human psyche - unlike this canyon, a construction and manifestation of supreme Being (no a, an, or the) perfect in its immanent transcendence.