Lost in the Proterozoic

While trekking through time, I got a little absorbed in the 21st century. There was a lot of snow to shovel, and spring has flung a number of challenges my way, not the least of which has been developing ideas for projects to tackle once this MIT fellowship winds down in mid-May. In the process, I let this project fall a bit. But so it goes! It’s difficult to live in two times at once. (Just ask a Mars scientist.)

The idea was to feel each 33.7 million years tick by every day. To grasp the immensity of it. On the one hand, it doesn’t work. The scales are so vast that the human mind, embedded in a body that will be lucky to live 100 years, fails to grok the millions. 

On the other hand, I do feel more conversant with the words we assign to geologic time: Hadean, Archean, Proterozoic. The names come more easily to mind. Numbers too, and adjectives, and even some sparse visual cues. It’s akin to learning a language. 

But learning a language isn’t the same as learning the instincts of a culture. Can I close my eyes and feel the passage of 33.7 million years? Until I start to dream in deep time, I fear I will always consider it a foreign and unknowable land. 

Still, I’m here, late in the Proterozoic, on the cusp of an explosion of animal life. For the past several months, I’ve been comfortably sailing through the Proterozoic, an era of fairly stable continents when the Earth was rather quiet in contrast to its earliest days.  The next tearing-off of the calendar comes in a few days, when we hit the Phanerozoic and it’s off to the races. I’m going to prepare a good supply of decaf for the race to the finish line.