“The only true constant, is change.”
—Heraclitus of Ephesus, 4th century BCE
I am paraphrasing a bit there, I think. I know that I have the actual quote, in the original Greek, stashed away somewhere around here, but it would take me a while to find it. I’ve spent the last couple weeks trying to straighten up around the house, which has, in its own way, led to a certain amount of chaos.
I think Heraclitus would have appreciated that particular bit of irony. He was a man who believed that every ‘thing’ was contained within it’s opposite. It’s a difficult concept to wrap ones head around. Yet as I take in the present state of my home, strewn as it is, with half-empty boxes and random piles of clutter (all of it somewhere in the process of re-organization, to be sure), I find it to be a comforting thought. Somewhere within all this chaos, there is order waiting to be found.
Change is a constant: opposites contained, each within the other.
Still, I could use a break, so I take a moment to step outside. I breathe some fresh air and, even in the dark of early evening, I can see clearly enough that the world is changing around me.
The seasons are busy doing their thing: leaves falling, temperatures cooling, a freshening hint of rain in the air. Summer has definitely been left behind for a while, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go.
And then there are the bigger changes in the air, beyond my own limited sight.
However much we may fuss and argue over the cause of ‘Climate Change’, only the most deluded of fools would actually deny that it’s happening. The polar ice is melting, the oceans are warming and where it will all lead, no one can truly say.
National Geographic published this map, a while back, that shows what the world will look like if (or is that when?) all the ice melts.
In the intervening weeks since that map was published, I’ve read several people bickering over precisely what message (if any) we should take from it. What I find amusing, is that both camps, both the “alarmists” and the “nay-sayers,” take the fact that it would take a projected 6,000 years for sea-levels to reach this point, as an argument for their particular and opposing points of view.
For the folks on one side of the argument, that number is great cause for alarm. Most of our great cities, it would appear, are doomed. Our coastal infrastructure will be submerged, habitats ruined, and precious species lost, should these trends continue.
On the other hand, 6,000 years is a long time down the road. Not a one of us, nor our children, nor even our children’s children, will live to see that coastline. So, when the world seems so very stable beneath our feet, why worry?
I can see the rational behind both points of view, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see current climate trends in a less than positive light. Six-thousand years may seem like a long time, but when you start breaking that down into human generations the numbers become a little more immediate.
So here’s another map which I cribbed from the pages of National Geographic.
This is a map of Doggerland.
It’s a place you may not have heard of, because it hasn’t existed in nearly 8,000 years.
For millennia, after the end of the last ice-age, the British Isles we not islands at all, but simply the highlands of a vast countryside stretching all the way to the coast of what is now Denmark. We know very little of this place except through evidence dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea and through seismic mapping. We know that it was inhabited by Mesolithic hunters who likely lived a very nomadic life, following the great herds which would have roamed those now inundated plains and river valleys.
I find myself thinking a great deal about those people, now long vanished.
Did they vanish? Truly?
Oh, I have no doubt that their DNA markers are still alive and well in our blood and bone, but I’m thinking of something else altogether.
I’m wondering if we don’t share a little bit of their memories.
Their story seems so familiar, after all.
Celtic mythology is brimming with tales of lands that lie deep under the sea, of islands that erupt from the depths at certain times of the year and lakes that serve as portals to an underworld faerie community. That there are lands, mysterious and unexplored, populated by mythical beings or the restless dead, hidden away in the oceans depths, is a commonly recurring theme in the lore. Yet, where did those stories come from?
I think about those Mesolithic hunters, in the waning years of Doggerland, watching miles of grassland and forest transformed first into brackish swamp and then eventually swallowed by the sea. Imagine the landscape upon which you depend for survival, changing so completely, all during the span of a single generation.
Did they feel lost? Punished?
As they migrated at last, to lands higher and safer, did they bring their stories with them, memories to be passed down of the great forests and valleys now hidden beneath the waves. As successive populations moved into their lands, now islands, did those stories survive, carried down to us through Neolithic monument builders, and much later, by our Celtic ancestors.
It is impossible to know for sure, however true it may feel.
The answers are buried by time and wave.
And what about the generations to come?
Will they remember us any better than we remember the people of Doggerland? Or will we exist only as hints, as stories within stories, passed down by sources long forgotten?
Forgotten and remembered – opposites contained, each within the other.
The only thing we know for sure is that change is a constant.
(and my house is a mess, I’d better get back to that)