It was on a geological field trip to Arran in 1984 that I first expressed to anyone a sense of loss I felt in connection with my awareness of the vastness of deep time. This became part of my motivation to imaginatively evoke deep time in my writing.
We had been shown a geological unconformity, where older sedimentary strata had been planed off by erosion over millions of years and then overlain by a cross-cutting younger sequence of strata. I was aware that each stratum had taken thousands, even millions, of years to deposit and so represented a whole ecosystem of minerals, plants, and animals that had existed during that time. The erosion of the strata meant the final destruction of the physical remains of that ecosystem so that nothing was left save grains of sand carried away by wind, water, or ice. I expressed to a research student who was working with me my feeling of sadness at that loss of whole worlds of being, lasting millions of years, which could never again be known. The research student was a practical girl; she told me that as you get older you realise there are other things that matter more than that.
I’ve grown up a bit since then and certainly I’ve found other things to worry about – money, for instance – but I do still carry that sense of loss for what is past. Out of that has grown a deepening desire for recovery or remembering, what my friend Jay Ramsay calls, after Plato, ‘anamnesis’. Another friend once told me how his own writing was motivated by a wish to salvage moments of existence out of the ceaseless pouring away of experience into oblivion. For me, that idea connects to a desire that what has gone might return into being, or be discovered somewhere, somehow, continuing to exist. Extinct species of animals in particular, but also the environments in which they lived; ‘and will they rise in a higher dimension folded back into Universal Mind’, Jay writes in his poem sequence Anamnesis. Writing an intensely imagined story is a way to bring something back to life, in your own imagination and in your readers’. Who’s to know what the significance of doing that may be? It’s that kind of motivation that drove me to spend ten years of my life writing Deep Time.