‘In these years, the early 1980s, most events and processes that have been occurring for millennia continue to occur, some of them silently, slowly, taking place an inch at a time miles below the surface of the earth, others noisily, with smoke and fire, revolution, war and invasion, taking place on the surface. We measure the geological change in millimeters per annum, feel nothing move beneath our feet and conclude, therefore, that nothing has happened. By the same token, when we read newspapers and hear from the evening news broadcasts that there is revolution in Iran, war in Iraq, foreign soldiers and tanks in Afghanistan, because each new day brings a surfeit of such news, blotting out the news of the day before, news of Israelis in Lebanon replacing accounts of Russians in Afghanistan, Americans in Grenada replacing Israelis in Lebanon, we conclude here, too, nothing has happened.
The metabolic rate of history is too fast for us to observe it. It’s as if, attending to the day-long life cycle of a single mayfly, we lose sight of the species and its fate. At the same time, the metabolic rate of geology is too slow for us to perceive it, so that, from birth to death, it seems to us who are caught in the beat of our own individual human hearts that everything happening on this planet is what happens to us, personally, privately, secretly. We can stand at night on a high, cold plain and look outward toward the scrabbled, snow-covered mountains in the west, the same in a suburb of Denver as outside a village in Baluchistan in Pakistan, and even though beneath our feet continent-sized chunks of earth grind inexorably against one another, go on driving one or the other continent down so as to rise up and over it, as if desiring to replace it on the map, we poke with our tongue for a piece of meat caught between two back teeth and think of sarcastic remarks we should have made to our brother-in-law at dinner.’