Seeing TIME on Paddy’s Pillar

We are often so wrapped up in our phones and computers that we forget when we are.

“Time” is a force. It tears at rocks, and pulls down arches. It can be seen, if we are in the right place.

From a little fishing pier along our road, you can actually watch time happen.

There is a pillar of rock just offshore. It used to be more than a pillar; I remember it as a double column topped with a graceful bow. Last year, the curve collapsed, a victim of the clock of tides.

In fact, it suffered from two curses: it was made of soft sandstone, and it was attacked by the highest tides in the world.

The tidal rush that tears at the column rises and falls almost fifty feet, twice a day. Flowing into the Midas Basin, home of the pillar, the high tide rushes through the narrow Blow-Me-Down (Blomidon) passage. It was named Blomidon because the water used to knock the old wooden sailing ships right over. In those days, sailors couldn’t swim. Go figure.

More water surges through that passage than flows through all the rivers in the world put together! Shows twice daily.

Against that force, the rock itself is a poor soldier. Its sandstone was formed when the dinosaurs frolicked on the beach. It is collapsing into the surf at a rate of a metre/yard a year.

Within living memory, that pillar was part of a long point of land: it had a meadow, with grass and trees. Cows grazed on it. Within living memory, all that disappeared. Within the next chunk of living memory — a decade — the last remaining pillar will vanish. Nothing will be left to show what had come before.

Except us.

We are the time machines. We are the recorders. We are the universe comprehending itself. Until you and your kind existed, there was no “time”…only tides.

We have been time-makers since we became aware. Time and tide wait for no one, said Chaucer six hundred years ago.

Maybe not, but if we watch the tides, we can also watch the time. “Long Time”, it might be called.

On the remaining cliffs, a hundred feet up, houses are perched. They look safe. Of course, there is that human sense of ‘safe’. Given a generation, they will be staring into a foamy abyss. Good luck with the property sale. (“…and in the back yard is our shed…oops. Never mind.”)

The erosion of that pillar reveals a different time-device. It measure the degree of time’s passage in a very different way than atomic clocks, wristwatches, or sun-dials.

When the tide swooshes by, its fingers pull back the covers on eras long gone. Across the bay from the pillar, the fossils of the world’s smallest dinosaurs are displayed on the beach.

Once, dinosaurs the size of chickens cavorted in the sand. They nested in holes inside massive trees that were made of fern, not wood.

Now, our former life companions are the sand.

The tides reveal markers without memories; clock-face numbers tell a time of eons.

So in this little corner of Nova Scotia, we have three lucky convergences: soft stone, high tides, and a record of early life. The dynamic elements are exactly right to create a tidal clock driven by erosion, at a rate that humans would notice.

And in the rushed world of the Internet, where many people hunger for a hint of meaning in their lives, they ask ‘how much can one human life measure up in the scales of centuries?’

True, your work, your friends, and your loving relationships can ground you and be very satisfying.

But there is further satisfaction in knowing that you can relate your place in the universe to your ability to comprehend the changing face of the tidal clock.

The tides and the rocks have always existed. But until you saw them, they were not clocks; they were not time.

Only you can provide that meaning. Every time you see the tide, every time you notice that the rocks have changed, every time the landscape’s curtains pull back on a stunning gift from the past…every time you notice time, you are saying to the universe: I am here, I see you, and I know you.

Only humans can understand and enjoy the gift of the tides, as they work; only humans can make them into a picture of life; a portrait of change.

Barry Gander is a Canadian who was born in Connecticut - two strikes against him! He enjoys his American colleagues, and his work on communications networks.