Enormity

Beaver’s Pick
Rori Leigh Hoatlin


In Open Fields of Wildflowers - Lupine and Daisies IMG_2123
Photo Credit: John Britt

It surprised us when our Advanced Biology teacher, Mr. Reef, told us, “Millions of years ago glaciers cut through Hudsonville, Michigan. Everything, covered by water. Over time the glaciers melted into lakes, then those lakes trickled down to streams, and those streams sank into the earth creating the well-watered dirt we call muck.”

This surprised us. We attended Unity Christian High School and this was the first time I ever heard an adult say the world we lived in was millions of years old. We’d been taught to fight these sort of proclamations—how old the earth. We were taught to quote Genesis. One week, one literal week, was all it took for God because he could do anything. We must have been caught off guard. We didn’t expect this statement to come from our science teacher. He wasn’t looking for a fight. He didn’t ask us how old we thought world was. He gave us the facts.

This had been an impromptu field trip. The fifteen of us shuffled out of the classroom and boarded one of the six buses our school owned. We rode down Oak and Van Buren streets, past the fairgrounds and over the railroad tracks.

I looked out the window and surveyed my hometown, a flat place with the exception of a two-mile ridge of oak and maple trees to the west, a place made of muck fields—waterlogged mud that the Dutch were persistent enough to till. A place of celery, onions, and corn, wet all year long, but green in the spring. Purple and yellow wildflowers grew at the edge of the vegetable fields. Even on sunny days, the air smelled like a wet forest floor.

I tried to picture what it looked like “millions” of years ago. I imagined the land underwater. I imagined rivers cutting banks, foliage growing and dying. I reconstructed the enormity of the blue-and-white glacier, imagined that it covered the lowland. Wolverines roamed the tundra and howled at the black sky. But then again, there was probably nothing, just silence and ice.

At the time, I saw this trip as an escape from school. A moment when he taught us factoids about the earth, about our home. But it would have taken years for me to find out this information if he hadn’t given it to me. I wish I could return to that moment, poke myself in the ribs, and demand that I recognize its importance.

Would that version of me see?

Time opens up before me, a cavern of impossibly stretched space. We believed God made the earth in seven days. But Mr. Reef didn’t waver, he didn’t say God’s time might be different from our own and maybe seven days for God was millions of years to us. We knew what our arguments were and he knew them too. It was more important that we learn something new rather than regurgitate the same old lines we’d been fed. He needed to remind us that the world we lived in was older and filled with more complexity than we could fathom. He knew that at seventeen, we felt large. We were going to graduate and be a part of the world—he needed to remind that we felt grandiose, but in fact, we were very small.

pencilRori Leigh Hoatlin is a Teaching Fellow of English composition and literature at Georgia College and a Summer 2013 Teaching Consultant at The Lake Michigan Writing Project in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her work has previously appeared in Young Scholars in Writing, Prick of the Spindle, and is forthcoming in Steel Toe Review, Superstition Review, and Tampa Review Online. Email: hoatlinr[at]gmail.com

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