Deep time therapy

The sense of deep time brings a deep peace with it, a detachment from the timescale, the urgencies, of daily life.  Seeing these volcanic islands and coral atolls, and wandering, above all, through this cycad forest on Rota, has given me an intimate feeling of the antiquity of the earth, and the slow, continuous processes by which different forms of life evolve and come into being.  Standing here in the jungle, I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.*
(Oliver Sacks)

The tree-lined reservoir was only a few miles from my home in the compacted mill town of Oldham and I was standing among its tall pines on a windy day, mesmerised by the swaying of their straightened trunks, creaking and moaning as they adapted and resisted the wind.  I don’t know how long I was there.  It felt as if it was a long time and it felt as if it was a short time, and even now, maybe fifteen years later, I am still deeply moved by the memory.

Winston Churchill had reflected on the adversarial layout of the House of Commons:

“we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”.

The same must be true of our towns and cities.  They are human creations shaping our thinking and feeling and behaviour directly and indirectly.

Nature is another place all together.  I’m not saying one is wrong and one right, but they are very different.

Deep time for me means the deep past and the imaginable future being somehow present in the now, holding a sense of both my smallness and bigness.

For all my present home of Edinburgh represents many centuries of inhabitants and all their buildings, but it’s the cities volcanic hills that provide me with a sense of deeper time – some 350 million years, and outside the city, the hills and trees and skies take me into deeper possibilities.

‘Look at this Indian paintbrush,” he said.  “Have you ever seen this colour of magenta?”


A stunning boulder left behind by glaciers loomed large on a slope speckled with yellow and orange lichen.  Chanterelle mushrooms looked like the gold fringe of a fallen log.  It was a good stopping place for lunch.’**

(*From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Oliver Sacks on Nature’s Beauty as a Gateway into Deep Time and a Lens on the Interconnectedness of the Universe.)
(**From Terry Tempest Williams The Hour of Land, quoting her father as they walked along the Teton Crest Trail in the Grand Teton National Park.)

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