This morning in conversation arose the Waste Isolation Pilot Program dilemma. Given that this lethal radioactive material has to remain isolated for ten thousand years, how do you create a nonverbal warning sharp enough and strong enough to convince the humans of ten centuries hence not to disturb it for any reason?
Ten thousand years is longer than the earliest aspects of agricultural civilization. We have not a single symbol or concept in common with the humans of that era. How can we communicate across such a vast gap? Many greatly ingenious and talented people have made proposals. Eventually one will be chosen.
And we will never know what happens.
It’s ten thousand years in the future. There is no plausible chance that we or anyone with anything in common with us will last to see how this endeavor plays out. It’s not even a question of “history will tell,” because by that point history won’t be history.
We can spin as many scenarios as we like, with as much detail and variety as we want. But we will never receive an answer. It is beyond us. The wall is impenetrable, and always will be.
Go back to 8000 BCE. Agriculture is just beginning to come together. There are are maybe 5 million human beings. Sumeria, Egypt, Harappa, the Olmecs, the Xia dynasty–all these belong to the distant future. 10000 years ago. The utter beginnings of human civilization.
Now take that and multiply–everything, from the most distant reaches of what we might call history to our own day-ONE HUNDRED TIMES OVER
And you get a million years. 1/65th of the way to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. Which lasted 186 million years.
We are less than a blip. We are a blip on a blip. And anything you or I might recognize as something we were accustomed to is a blip on that blip, a microblip.
“Time measures everything”
As I stood to piss.
In piss is truth, in tribute to time the judge.
The Thirties & Forties had to lead to the Fifties. The Fifties to the Sixties. The Sixties to the Seventies.
In the depths of each phase, the forces defining that phase seem permanent. But already has been stamped their expiration date, and the next cycle cued up to overtake.
It’s time to pause for a moment and honor the greatest accomplishment of any life form on this planet: the creation of the oxygen atmosphere by cyanobacteria. It took a billion years. For untold millennia, tiny blue-green algae woke up, punched the time clock, and spent the day busily churning out oxygen. They knew they wouldn’t live to see the end goal, but they never faltered, because they had a dream and they believed in that dream. Humanity’s most majestic achievement, global climate change, is a mere modification of the work done by those pioneers. Cyanobacteria: the first and still the best.
Took our two youngest to Spot Pond this afternoon. The light gleamed gold through the autumn leaves, witnessing their tumbling fall. The water rippled despite no discernible breeze. We saw a garter snake slither away from us, found a dead, half-eaten hawk. The kids played with sticks and threw rocks in the water.
Looking to my own childhood, I have a thick sheaf of memories of myself with my parents in the woods, on rocky seashores, near rivers and lakes. I always felt greatly at ease in such places, with my family. I remember exploring the woods around our house in Stillwater, NJ, at age 6, walking behind my father through the trackless forest. I was a little worried, since there was no path and no way to know where we were going, but I trusted him. My trust was rewarded, and we always found our way home.
Appreciating parenthood can be tricky. It’s exhausting, and goes very quickly. Which is why it can be nice to be with your kids in the wild, because it allows you to simply watch them for a time, to appreciate who they are at that moment. It’s a great advantage of nature, of taking yourselves out of the defining haunts of home and work and school and being outside, part of something larger. Perhaps it’s a way of saying to biology “Look, I reproduced! Just like you told me to!” but that’s a little materialistic for me. I think more it’s an abeyance of time as we experience it, a refuge in the endless cycle of the seasons. Our lives come and go, childhood especially, but the light will always be there.