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The Glacier’s Receding

January 26, 2014

series from university sand and gravel

For the past year or so, I have been photographing in the gravel pit in Brooktondale where I live. Geologically speaking, the site is a hanging delta, one of the many remnants of the ice age that define the topography of the region. It is a place where rushing melt waters met an enormous post-glacial lake and laid down deposits of sand, gravel, clay and the occasional erratic boulder, oddballs from places to the north. During the Pleistocene epoch, flowing sheets of ice inundated the landscape and bull dozed deep valleys. As each wave of ice retreated, torrents of melt water finished the work: rounding hills, filling valleys and moving material. Water has a way of separating materials: coarse from fine, rocks from sand; this is visible in modern rivers and deltas. The sand and gravel operation simply takes nature’s process one step further and uses machinery to sort the stones by size and clean the sand, providing an essential commodity for the region.

Having spent so much time in the western landscape of rock and sand, it is only natural that I am drawn to this barren landscape, devoid of vegetation, and full of rough textures and muted colors. The sky is wide open here, making it good place for star-gazing. The relative seclusion allows me to do my work without having to explain myself. My favorite time to explore is on a bleak winter day, with a thin layer of snow and late in the afternoon, under slate gray skies. Then, the pit feels like the glacial remnant that it is. Piles of rock mingle with the shores of vast ponds, pathways meander and the workings of the machinery are confused with the workings of nature. At first it seems like chaotic destruction, but then an orderly process of collaboration with the forces of nature becomes apparent. From certain angles, the piles mimic the surrounding hills, carved by the glaciers, and the frozen ponds look like rivers of ice. Glimpses of machinery, each assigned a primary color, reel everything back into scale.
Some might consider such an excavation as an insult to the landscape; certainly the extractive process of mining is often open to criticism. But, here, I am only reminded that the biggest mover of earth has been nature herself, and that she probably isn’t done yet. By peeling back the layers of the earth and exposing the geologic history, the scale of our impact on the history of the planet, becomes clear. We are probably more insignificant than we think. A future wave of ice will surely come and erase all of this effort and rework the landscape once more.

 gravel pit university sand and gravel

series from university sand and gravel

 gravel pit university sand and gravel

gravel pit university sand and gravel

series from university sand and gravel

gravel pit university sand and gravel


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One Comment
  1. A good read, Rob. For some reason I kept thinking about the slate quarry over at Georgia’s house behind Shirley’s old place. Sharp contrast but along the lines of your thoughts; human influence is slowly being erased by persistent growth and weathering.

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