Our house was built in 1860, not so old by UK standards, but old enough to have that feeling of solidity. When I place my hand on the stone walls I can feel a sense that these walls have seen time passing, and I wonder at the occupants that came before us. Luckily, we inherited the deeds of the house, back through history, old titles scratched in ornate, beautiful, illegible script on pages as big as a broadsheet. Over time the two cottages became one, roads disappeared under crazy paving, wartime vegetables were grown. Cloth from the mills dried on tenters next to the back garden boundary.
140 years is an age to a human yet such a short time to this house, and I hope in another 140 years it is still standing, in some form. This little piece of land, of which we are fleeting custodians, runs deeper than I can imagine. Beneath couch grass, worms, rubble and sand lie deeper secrets. To think in layers of earth is to travel through time.
Down the inevitable internet rabbit hole, I chanced upon the most wonderful ‘you definitely need an entire afternoon for this’ website from the British Geological Survey. The Geology of Britain map is absolutely fascinating – and there is a collection of other things to find out about too – groundwater levels, soil types, you name it. There have even been some tiny earthquakes nearby. I love a map, and this is next level mapping.
I found out our garden lies pretty much exactly on a border of Millstone Grit and Guiseley Grit – both formed around 320 million years ago. Sipping tea, I sat and thought about this little piece of land and the story it could tell. I had seen some local fossils of giant palm leaves, dated from around the same time, growing in a river delta somewhere near the equator. Of course, I had to find out where this river delta once existed.
I forget, sometimes, how amazing the internet can be. A quick search brought me to Dinosaur Pictures’ amazing site, where I entered my town in the search bar and watched as the globe spun back over millions of years (also, the main site is full of dinosaurs which, if you’re a dino-lover like me, is always a bonus). There was the UK, half submerged in a shallow, warm sea. The river delta must have run into the sea just where my house lies today. I imagine giant fronds, oxygen-rich air, who-knows-what living our their unknown lives.
I love this. To stand outside barefoot, toes frozen by the winter frosts, on this land that is so, so old. A tiny human existence, fleeting, barely a spark in this timeline. Yet here I am, existing, a small part of the story of this place. I am overwhelmed by time, the enormity of it, the shortness of life, but in awe that somehow I am here, with senses and a brain that can comprehend some of it, at least. What an experience this life is. I wonder, in another 320 million years, where this land will be, what ocean will cover it? Where will the molecules be that were once part of me? What life will exist, if any? In the midst of such thoughts, I smile, and I feel very lucky that I have placed my footprints, however transient, on even the smallest piece of this earth.