Perspective: Sense of Place in Time

In some recent thinking about the nature and importance of “sense of place” I’ve come to (the probably obvious) conclusion that a fully elaborated relationship to the places of our lives is intertwined with a relationship to TIME.

All these impact place: our present culture and overall environment in the NOW; the historical past of this place and lives, human and otherwise, that have been lived here and which have brought change, for good or ill, to our “special” landscapes; and ultimately, we leave our here to the now of future generations who inherit the legacy of what we have done, for good or ill, to our places in our days–to houses, neighborhoods, cities, nation and planet.

Sense of Place and Sense of Time are inseparable sides of the same coin, I have come to think.

And so, with no apparent connection to this topic whatsoever, I allowed myself to be pleasantly distracted in the details of a PLACE I will never go: Mt Everest. Join me: go here.

This is an interactive composite of 400 separate images of Everest that you can pan and zoom with your mouse cursor. This, dear chums, is the kind of Walter Mitty armchair travel I fantasized about decades ago when computers began to promise to deliver our wildest dreams. One of my wildest dreams was to “experience” far-away natural places–virtual hikes, I imagined them to be–for a time when I could no longer carry a 40 pound pack up mountains. That time has come.

So I’m giddily scanning around this virtual place, and of course, am interested in the summits that top out at 29k feet. The striped image above is a screen shot of such a peak–maybe the highest of them. Curious, I thought. Look at that banding.

Typically down at less absurd elevations, such layering suggests that the rock was once the bottom of the ocean, with different kinds of sediment deposited at different ages before compression and heat made mud and ooze into rock.

Guess what: those bands at the top of the world were once thick layers under deep marine waters.

Wikipedia says of those layers: “petrographic analysis of samples of the limestone from near the summit revealed them to be composed of carbonate pellets and finely fragmented remains of trilobites, crinoids, and ostracods.”

If I were on Everest, I would want to know that. Standing on the summit with 70 mile-an-hour winds blowing rime icicles onto my beard, I would want to hold in my awareness the fact that I had climbed all that way to plant my feet on the ocean bottom. My sense of place would be informed by a sense of time.

I cross Goose Creek this morning on my way to feed the cussed birds. The granite stones that glisten in its water were once fragments of a rock face at no less an elevation than today’s Himalayan peaks. We live on places-in-motion in time and in space. Earth tilts back toward the sun and today will be longer than yesterday. And life goes on.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Chilly on Everest this time of the year, Fred, and the winds on the summit are something else. I had an acquaintance who climbed it years ago and lived (to tell the tale. Merry Christmas to you and your tribe!

  2. Yep, Kathy, these gentle places were once high and wild.


    At the time they formed, the Appalachians were much higher than they are today — more like the present-day Rocky Mountains. While the Atlantic Ocean was still in its infancy, the Appalachians were already being attacked by erosion. For the last 100 million years, erosion has carved away the mountains, leaving only their cores standing. Erosion continues today and is constantly altering the landscape of the Southern Appalachians.

    Four times during the past 2 million to 3 million years, great sheets of ice advanced steadily southward from the polar region. The glaciers did not extend as far south as the Southern Appalachians, but they triggered a change in climate that can be seen today in both the rocks and the life of the region.