December 24th, 2017


Channels of water appeared,
the foundations of the earth were laid bare,
at Your rebuke, Lord,
at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
- Psalm 18

At the very edge we stand,
ants on a crumb,
and look down.
The jagged rock is vertically segmented,
ledged, harsh, and brown,
marbled with marble at random
layer on layer on layer on layer
of time and greatness God cannot change
now, cannot alter in body or soul,
can only admire and fly away
in a dream of dinosaur bones.
- Stephanie McLintock

I have chosen this place because it has a unique structure. In this valley was laid down, over the last four million years, layer upon layer of volcanic ash, interbedded with broad bands of shale and mudstone. The deep deposit was formed at different times, one stratum after another, visibly separated according to age: four million years ago, three million years ago, over two million years ago, somewhat under two million years ago. And then the Rift Valley buckled it and stood it on end, so that now it makes a map in time, which we see stretching into the distance and the past. The record of time in the strata, which are usually buried underfoot, has been up-tilted in the cliffs that flank the Omo, and spread out like the ribs of a fan.

These cliffs are the strata on edge: in the foreground the bottom level, four million years old, and beyond that the next lowest, well over three million years old. The remains of a creature like man appear beyond that, and the remains of the animals that lived at the same time.

The animals are a surprise, because it turns out that they have changed so little. ...
- Jacob Bronowski, 'The Ascent of Man'


Enjoying having the space, time, and quiet to relax and do some real reading. Currently I'm working my way through Psalms, Proverbs (I know the book pretty well now, but I review a chapter a day), and Song of Songs; and working through, very slowly, the opening chapters of Genesis.

I live in a heavily wooded area. It's mostly cedars - not the cedars that Kings David and Solomon would have known, but red cedars, or Thuja plicata [ ], which are native to this part of North America. (They're technically not part of the cedar family and this reason taxonomical purists prefer that the English name be written as a single word, "redcedar".) I'm enjoying the opportunity to learn more about the natural environment now that I'm out of the city.

As a kid I watched the miniseries 'The Ascent of Man' with Jacob Bronowski; I was too young to really get anything out of it, but I've kept the hardcover book based on the show that my parents bought when it came out back in 1973. Finally started reading it last night and finished the first chapter. The confluence of images from 'The Ascent of Man' and the vivid Psalm 18 put me in mind of one of my sister's poems, prompting the preceding post.

It also got me thinking, again, about how profoundly true the Torah story is, not in a narrow creationist sense, but in how it illuminates what we learn from science. Man evolves quickly - intellectually, morally, and spiritually; animals do not. Man can contemplate his choices and his future, and can delay gratification - or fail to do so. Man can communicate (or, at least, woman can, since in the Biblical narrative it is Eve who engages in the first real dialog). Man creates social organizations, with their structures and their strictures; this requires language. The first reported use of written communication in the Bible is the unspecified 'sign' that warns Cain's fellow humans not to shed his blood. It appears that the Creator's response to Cain's plea is motivated not by pity but by pragmatism: How to stanch the flow of blood set loose by this first act of violence? If man is permitted to say, "As this man did to his brother, so let us to to him!" then there will be no end to it. The proposed solution is a mark representing a Divine interdiction - and so, not only is it the first instance of writing in the Bible, but it is also a prefiguring of the Torah itself.