by Carl Safina
An Antarctic Morning. The light comes from everywhere and from nowhere. The ocean, glittering then vanishing in gauzy vapors, handles us more gently than anyone could have hoped. Snow flurries in and hurries out. Mists veil coasts so raw, so newly released from the lock of ice, they seem barely to have brushed a breeze. When the mists lift, sunlight strikes rock and ice and sea, radiating the bright brilliance of fleeting moments. Now we see that those rock slabs rising from shore spire up into jagged pinnacles crowning massive mountains stretching across the horizon and leaning back into eternity.
How old is today?
“Cairo: Blast in Christian-minority Coptic church kills dozens, mostly women.”
The shoulders of each peak lie draped in snowy capes. In the valleys the snows deepen and compress into fields of ice flowing — imperceptibly, but inexorably flowing — under an enormity of weight and time, frozen rivers of fate in confrontation with the sea. Unnamed glaciers between unnamed peaks, unnamed beaches no human foot has trod; and under an unashamed sky on every ledge the painted seabirds flit and sort and court and warm tomorrow’s youth. This is the original world, the world of eternal beginnings and endings, endless birthing and endless comings of age, all conspiring into the long procession of the ages.
“Stocks set records again as energy companies continued climbing with benchmark U.S. crude adding 15 cents and tech companies like Apple and IBM traded higher…”
The glaciers terminate as great gleaming brows of ice. Their heavy worry-lines of cracks and crevasses, the only evidence of their motion, foretell their crumbling fate. Within those cracks, broken hearts of ice 30,000 years old glow blue, glow turquoise — . Born in snowflakes before the last ice age, now old and wrinkled but still radiating youth from inside, they brood and hesitate over their inevitabilities. And isn’t it astonishing that even in time we can sense, in the moment of a human morning, they groan and roar and burst; sloughing great blocks of ancient identity into the heaving sea.
“New York. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary — ”
How old is today? There is no night, only light. So there are no days, only daylight. These shores who host our view, who cradle our glaciers, who separate land from waters as on the first day; they are today, too; they make today today, as they have been doing for one hundred million years.
As mountains go, they are young. Today is as old as cold coffee, acute as our deepest regret; vivid as the best day we’ll ever have. Today is new as the clouds that level the peaks for an hour, as old as the peaks that shave snows from those drifting clouds.
Today is as old as the words “should have.” As new as the realization that “should have” is an idea with no future. Today is as young as the word “enough” that frees us to attend to what matters, to meanings as deep as blue hearts of ice in the flicker of fleeting time and the brevity of our long and seemingly momentous lives.
“Hawaii: on the mid-Pacific atoll of Midway, the oldest known wild bird, an albatross known as Wisdom, has laid an egg at age 66.”
How young is today? Somewhere near the edge of our galaxy, on this sparkling dot of diamond-dust, for an instant our ship achieves the illusion of cruising slowly. The high peaks click past. The glacial faces smile anonymous smiles. Their broken bits crowd the sea like lost teeth.
“Washington, D.C.: Hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas and oil can harm the quality and availability of drinking water in the United States, according to a new governmental report.”
And beyond the toothy floating tiles of ice gather checker-board petrels, bathing, washing from their breasts the stains of parenthood. In the cliffs they trill and carry on their passions, forging this year’s link in the great chain of being. As do the penguins, braying on their hillsides, porpoising through their waters.
As, too, do the great whales on the wide and silver sea, spouting their great steamy fountains, breathing deep their recent reprieve from human savagery. Lucky for them that they hold few intergenerational memories. It frees them to comport with us as though forgiving all, as though this day is young, as though today and their children are all that matter to them.
“Rap Superstar Kanye West has emerged from the hospital to meet the president-elect, marking the artist’s first appearance since a reported mental breakdown.”
And so the whales and glaciers show us, but cannot teach us, that cherishing inter-generational pain is one way we curse ourselves, that it’s possible to remember too much to fully face the day.
“Beirut: the pullout of Syrian Rebels and civilians from their last holdout in the besieged city of Aleppo has been delayed.”
How old is today?
This ragged, rugged coast, crenelated and spired and frosted to white oblivion, having no eyes for night or light, sensing neither cold nor kiss of sun, has simply stood, has known only one day here for these most recent hundred million years.
Today is older than we are, and younger than we will ever again be. As old as we make it. We have today. And that is true every day, but won’t always be.
This continent of eternity and change, formerly so ravaged of life but now the best-protected of all worlds on Earth, offers us a chance, a glimpse of how to get it right.