The Perspective of Long, Deep Time

The Perspective of Long, Deep Time

I’ve just returned from an 8-day Wilderness Travel trip kayaking and bushwhacking through Glacier Bay and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. A trip booked originally in August 2019 from a completely different time and mindset in my then busy and over-booked life; postponed twice because of the pandemic, now a beautiful moment in my retirement-to Renaissance adventure. 

There would be much to share about the adventures of those 8 days – reveling in the abundance of humpback whales and sea lions and sea otters and grizzly bears and salmon and eagles and puffins and terns and murrelets and sandpipers and sea stars and jellyfish. And sharing those adventures with 60 people who also truly appreciated wilderness and graciously respected each other. 

I do recommend our on-board naturalist guide’s book The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska. Kim Heacox is an excellent, award-winning author, long-time resident of Glacier Bay, and ardent activist about honoring and protecting the awesome natural resources in Alaska and respecting the culture of the native Tlingit people. And such a warm wonderful companion on kayak/skiff trips and sharing meals on the boat.

Here I’m focusing on my continued awareness of the poignancy of the ephemerality of all of life, including the massive glaciers we were privileged to see up close, calving many times an hour as the ice melts and the glaciers recede. (Alaska’s glaciers are receding at rates faster than anywhere else in the world 30-70-120- miles in a few decades.) Sculpting the land into bays and inlets, islands and new mainland, both coming and going. [After the weight of a receding glacier is lifted, the land itself “bounces back”, it lifts an inch a year in what is called isostatic rebound.]

The old-growth forests, whose 350-450 year old Sitka spruce and western hemlock eventually topple to the earth again to become nurse logs for new forest to grow.  Marine isotopes have been found at the tops of these trees; the salmon carried into the forest by eagles and bears as they spawn and die nourish the forest. Beautiful, awesome, and part of the long-time, deep-time life cycle on our planet.

The poem below arrived in my inbox while I was away. While a different location and different era, it does capture the wisdom of relishing every precious moment while we have it, as all moments come and go with a large enough perspective.

Cave Painting At Font du Gaume

Of course, even his bones

are now dust,

his flowing mane

taken by the wind,

those sturdy hooves

and solid flesh consumed

and reborn in endless forms.

Even so, through two hundred centuries

of darkness and lamplight

he is still running free

across that vast savannah of time.

And the hand that captured,

in a few spare lines

on the limestone wall,

that wild grace,

sending it down through the years –

hand of my ancestor,

hand of our ancestor –

has long since returned

to the formless.

A day will come,


when all this

will be gone:

you and I,

the painting,

even the wall,

carved by ages of

drip and flow,

through uplifted memories

of countless tiny beings

who spent their short lives

in that primordial sea.

And yet this beauty –

this grace –

offers itself to us

in this moment,

the only time we have.

– Larry Robinson

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