Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sands of Time

"Life's like an hourglass glued to the table." Lyrics from "Breathe (2 AM)" by Anna Nalick

We took a family vacation last week. On one of the days, we headed to Rib Mountain State Park. We took in the scenery from the scenic overlook.

We climbed the observation tower. (96 steps to get to the top . . . just sayin'.)

The mountain is one of the highest elevations in the state of Wisconsin and is made up of shiny quartzite rocks. (Technically, an Archaean Supercontinent split 2.5 billion years ago. Erosion of the ancient continent produced sand that accumulated and formed sandstone. Subduction started to happen about 2 billion years ago, sweeping oceans and continents back together. The Penokean Mountains were formed. At this time, it is believed that the sandstone metamorphosed into quartzite. Then an intrusion of syenite incorporates various large blocks of this quartzite. The Penokean Moutains and some of the syenite in their roots eroded away between 1.5 and .6 billion years ago, revealing the quartzite zenolith of today's Rib Mountain. ) It's easier to say "shiny quartzite rocks."

I had been to Rib Mountain several times before, but I never took the time to read about how it came to be. I was fascinated that I was standing on something that had fully emerged sometime in the past 300 million years. I stopped at one rock formation and was amazed that you can still see some of the original ripples of the sand from the sandstone that had buried the quartzite. (You can see a photo here.) It made me feel small and insignificant. As my husband said, our lifetimes are not even a mere "hiccup" in the history of this mountain. I thought about all the history that I had ever studied in school, and how this mountain had been around for all of it. I wondered how many people through the ages had stood where I was right now.

We walked around the mountain on top of a spongy layer of several years worth of leaves from the giant oak trees that towered above us. Tiny acorns were embeded in the leaves, and I thought of the saying "Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow."

At one point, we stopped at a concession stand near the campground and walking trails. When we bought our state park pass, we had been given a coupon for some free popcorn from the concession stand. We bought the usual souvenirs: a t-shirt for me, a hat for my husband, a bear tooth necklace for my son, a pink rabbit's foot necklace for my daughter, a bottle of water and, of course, we got our free popcorn. We sat at a picnic table under the oak trees and ate the popcorn. I sat back and listened to the conversation of my family. My son was getting over the disappointment of my not allowing him to buy a cheap plastic toy at the concession stand. My daughter was talking to her Dad about the rabbit's foot and how it wasn't "lucky" for the rabbit who lost the foot. Her Dad was trying to convince her that the pink rabbit had been out at a party and then inexplicably woke up in an alley on crutches without one of his feet. My son was wondering how someone got the tooth out of the bear to put on his necklace. At one point, the kids were telling us a joke, and the punchline was "under where?" Of course, the word "underwear" makes every nine and six-year-old laugh hysterically. My husband was laughing appreciatively at the very effective marketing technique of the coupon for free popcorn employed by the State of Wisconsin to get you to their concession stand where you will likely spend money as we just had.

And right then and there at a picnic table on a mountain of quartzite that had been around since practically the dawn of time, under a canopy of towering oak trees, I fell in love with my family all over again. I wondered if my kids would remember this moment from one of our family vacations. Would they keep the photos from this moment to show their children one day? Would they tell the story of this family vacation to them? Would some part of this moment on this day survive the generations like the ripples of sand on the ancient quartzite rocks?

And I felt sad, as I often do, that time goes by so quickly. My children are growing so fast, and time is passing by so quickly. It's like watching sand go through an hourglass, and I'm powerless to stop it. But I believe that the love we feel continues forever, starting like an acorn and growing into a mighty oak tree. And through the generations, our families help make us who we are. All of our experiences are buried within us like the shiny quartzite rock on the mountain. They remain inside us forever.

And I hope that one day my children will remember this early afternoon on a Monday in August on a park bench on one of the oldest geological formations on earth, and know how much I loved them.

"Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone." Jorge Luis Borges

1 comment:

  1. I remember the family vacations! Much fun! Loved the story.