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Father's Day, the great unconformity and turning 60

Posted: June 17, 2012 - 12:07am

So it’s Father’s Day. A day to appreciate the good men that are great dads. But it is also my birthday and I have shared this day with wonderful fathers many a time. In fact, last Father’s Day I wrote about the value of telling dad stories. However, this year it’s my 60th birthday and I am going to use my prerogative as a budding elder to - just once - usurp Father’s Day and write about my 60th year of life. If my father were still alive, he would approve of this move.

I started my 60th year of life (when I turned 59) – day one - bicycling 38 miles (stages 5 and 6) in the Kluane-Chilkat Bike Relay. I even had better stage times than when I did these stages about ten years ago. I exceeded my target time by 6 minutes and had a fantastic time doing it with my team, “Aging Divas in Denial” ... a perfect beginning for entering my sixth decade of life.

Then later, in November, I received an offer from a young man I had previously rafted with to join a private group of 15 adventurers for 27 days rafting through the Grand Canyon. Although I thought 27 days was a long time to be camping, I could not believe my good fortune to be invited on a trip of a lifetime. Besides all that extra time would give me plenty of time to be reflective in such a sacred place. A good thing to do at my age.

I soon discovered that the Grand Canyon lays out time like no other place on Earth. And when you’re slowly, silently rafting for days on end through canyon walls of millennia, you get into what’s known as deep time. Each of the 12 distinct layers of rock measures a hundred million years plus. If we were to measure the span of a life against the 3,000 foot walls or the 5,000 foot canyon rim we would not measure an inch. We would be that proverbial ‘speck of time.’ I found this a bit unsettling. Then all this changed for me when I reached the deepest part of the canyon where one encounters the Great Unconformity.

Geologically speaking, the Great Unconformity is where the deep brown Tapeats Sandstone, 500 million years old, sits directly upon Vishnu Schist, the oldest rock in the Canyon coming in 1.6 billion years old. This results in a time gap of 1.1 billion years within the rock layers. There is a side canyon you can hike to where you can place a hand on each layer of rock. By placing one hand on the curvy Tapeats Sandstone and another hand on the smooth, granite infused Vishnu Schist, you can literally hold the geologic time gap, the Great Unconformity, in your hands.

This notion of holding a billion years between my hands resonated with me because I realized that although my life may measure a mere speck, I at least have the knowledge to hold time in my hands. After all it is our consciousness that gives rise to the measurement of time and I no longer need feel so inconsequential. In fact, I can feel empowered to have the knowledge of time.

As I attempt to make my life beyond 60 a gift of time, this was a good thing to discover. Time is still on my side. But I also know time is short and I’m entering a phase of life where I will experience more personal loss of friends and loved ones. With the sudden loss of my sister, turning 60 is now synonymous with this new period of coping with loss.

Fortunately, thanks to the Grand Canyon, turning 60 is also synonymous with stepping out; with seizing a trip like the Grand Canyon – running huge rapids, kayaking solo, hiking slot canyons. Several times on the trip, I found myself outside my comfort zone. However, urged on by the vitality and confidence of the young men around me I made it through. I’m thinking now that my 60s can also be about finding new outlets, about getting outside your comfort zone every now and then. Like doing Mudrooms.

This vitality of being 60, comforted by the knowledge of holding time in our hands and making the most with the time we have is the real lesson of the Great Unconformity. Speaking of which, I can’t close without mentioning that the term, The Great Unconformity was also an apt description for the eclectic group of rafters I was travelling with. Drawing out this connection is another story but suffice it to say that we practiced moderation in all things, including moderation. My father would not have approved.

Ah, yes back to Father’s Day. In thinking about my own father, I’m thankful to have had a father that drew such bold lines that I can still relish ignoring some 50 years later. In thinking about fathers generally, I wish that all the good men being good fathers get the recognition they are due today. . . even if it’s my 60th birthday. And thank you readers for allowing me to digress on my special day.

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

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