Recently, I spent a weekend camping in an active demolition area. As I hung out at the base of the southern Garibaldi range, relentless forces were tearing down the peaks that rose thousands of feet above me. Freeze-and-thaw cycles drove ice wedges ever deeper into cracks into the rock, cleaving away car-size boulders. A vast pile of them had toppled to rest less than a hundred feet from where I’d set up my tent. Out on the colluvial fan where I collected drinking water, Raven Creek was relentlessly bulldozing tons of cobbles into Pitt Lake.
The only thing that saved me from being crushed by all this activity was the fleeting, mayfly span of my life. Saplings growing out of the boulder pile near my tent showed I’d missed being smashed by a mere fraction of a millennium. And I’d dodged being ground under a wave of rocks and washed out into the lake by just a split century.
To humans, few things seem more permanent and unchanging than mountains. Perhaps that’s why actually watching a big rockslide happen can be so disturbing: it’s like seeing a fracture in time itself.
But if mountains were sentient, if humans registered on their awareness at all, it might be as the briefest of flashes. We’d be the occasional flicker on the edge of their vision as they got on with the eons-long business of seismically or volcanically growing into adulthood. Among the community of mountains, we’d be the stuff of myth, half-seen ghosts whose very existence was much debated.