(A Wilder Time, William Glassley, Feb 2018)
A Wilder Time is a lyrical yet scientific appreciation of Greenland and what it has to say about Earth. William Glassley takes us along on a summer expedition to discover what Greenland actually is in paleo terms. His team of three finds that Greenland was there at the clash of continents, near the very beginning. They find rock 3.4 billion years old, right out in the landscape. They find a wall of giant orthopyroxene crystals that exist nowhere else in this size, stacked like a stockpile of bricks. Theory says they were forged in magma chambers 20 miles down, 2.8 billion years ago, but until now, we’ve never seen whole ones. In Greenland, they’re on permanent exhibition. They also find peace, tranquility, vast vistas, silence and an appreciation of the tiny things we’re far too busy to even know about. The less you have to think about, the more bandwidth you have for what’s in front of you. It is a delightful recounting of a wonderful adventure.
For a geologist, Glassley writes like a poet: “Suddenly, I understood Earth to be a manuscript, written in an extraordinary calligraphy, embellished with an artistry I could barely discern.” He gives all kinds of dimensions to what could have been a very dry book. Glassley himself is a unique specimen. A southern California surfer dude who by his own admission was punished and expelled from school numerous times, he managed to focus on geology and bring a nuanced appreciation of nature to everything he does. At one point he lies flat on the tundra to better locate a ptarmigan perfectly camouflaged in the lichen, and discovers the multiple fragrances of arctic flowers you cannot perceive at six feet. I think mensch is the technical term for this man.
Greenland itself is a vast treasure. It is an island that would stretch from British Columbia to Mexico and from San Francisco to Denver. Its ice sheet is still 12,000 feet thick. It still contains 600,000 cubic miles of frozen water — 10% of the water in the oceans. As it recedes, more land is exposed — and more treasures.
Glassley’s attachment to Greenland reminds me of the stories of white Americans kidnapped by Indians in the 1800s. Many who were let go, both men and women, were miserable and had to literally escape civilization to try to make it back to the tribe. There are no cases of freed Indians longing to escape the tribe and return to town life. For Glassley, Greenland is life.