A story of time.

Photo by Georgia Melodie Hole

We watched while the logs were licked and caressed and eventually consumed by the sinuous dance of the fire. Daring flames occasionally leapt out, and my skin reddened under the heat. Notes lifted with the smoke to drift over the small crowd, as the guitar player’s fingers lazily plucked the strings. We had come to the end of our time together; exploring the formation of this small island, clambering over rocks that had been bent, ripped, and pulled back into the depths only to erupt anew, all in a past beyond our sight.

Now, gathered on the waves of night-cold sand, the ground felt lifeless and inert compared to the hot vitality of the campfire. Through the smoke, I saw the olivine sea shining in moonlight, and I wished for this time not to pass, for the fire to more slowly turn to cinders. But it would soon be snuffed out by kicks of sand and beer-dregs, left to cool and whisper strands of smoke in the dark, while the sand beneath continues its grinding flow for aeons to come, on a timescale beyond the snatches of light from a fire or a human life.

I shuffled in the sand, and the feel of the smooth stone keepsake in my pocket reminded me that precious moments may be kept, for the world is not immune to small memories. After a week in this sun-dried landscape, outcropping from an ever-present horizon of blue, I found treasure.

Our group were earlier scattered over the rocks like sand-fleas; the gleams of bright yellow field-notebooks dotted the shore while the chinks of rock-hammers rung out. I had rambled over the crags toward the growing crowd on the beach, across fissile planes of sandstone crumbling into unassuming tufts. I paused. After field lectures and the days spent imbuing our eyes with the history beneath the land, I knew the potential history within these stone pages. With half my mind drifting to thoughts of dipping into the cool waters nearby, I absently leafed through some splinters and larger shards of the rock, and held an unassuming surface to face the bright Aegean sun. Through the bowed glass of my hand lens the delicate imprints of a single bird’s tracks became visible.

One hundred million years ago, this nameless bird would have wandered quietly past waves that lapped moisture onto a distant shoreline; not ours, but a forgotten shore that spread over this land before time had a name. In the aeons, epochs and ages since, countless numbers were born, fought for a fragile grip on the Earth, and returned to the ground, while the deep rhythms of the land remained, slowly fossilising a moment’s footfalls. This precious moment, captured for an eternity, was now seen again; resurrected. And it was mine to keep.

I brushed the imprints from sediment, and carefully bagged the etched slab that had resisted the pull of time. We all live in such small moments, these glimpses of life. Like dust drifting through a shaft of light, we may blaze and shine for an instant on this Earth, but as the seas roll and the mountains fold our light may be quenched before an image is formed, as in our short sight we toil and fight to survive.

Centuries may pass; civilisations, cultures, religions rise and fall. They are seen only as a breeze to carry the drifting flecks of dust; soon to change direction or fade to calm, when the flecks are left to settle back to the accepting ground, pressed back into the layers of the Earth. But from these layers I carried a single carefully wrapped imprint aeons in the making, careful to protect what was chosen to be reborn from a world long gone.

A slight shift in the cool night breeze made my eyes smart from the woodsmoke, as it screened out the world around us. As the motionless sea and the beach around us grew hazy, the star-speckled ink depths high above grew closer. With this eternity above, and the already fading flames ahead, I shuffled over to take a place amongst my friends. As we sat protected by the warmth of the camp, the comfort of our smaller time was tangible in the thicker air, the warmed sand, and the gently foaming waves. As the greying ashes slowly drew colour from the now smouldering logs, the vibrant flames slowed and turned blue with the cold.

The dark coals of our fire may themselves be preserved in layers beneath our feet, set within sand and hardened, to take our moments to an even deeper time, when mountains beyond this island were raised, oceans filled and valleys carved. Life arose and diversified into unexpected richness as it strove to reach the light and continue creation, on an Earth that had birthed, sustained, and saw the end of it all. As it quietly continues to fuse sands into stone, oblivious to the short struggles on its thin, brittle skin, I smiled as within my own time, my own moment; making my own imprints in the sand.

Science poet. Photographer. Nature lover. Arctic climate researcher. Writer.

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