With Paul Mortimer
Born in North Wales, poet & writer Paul Mortimer has lived in Tiverton for 13 years. His first poetry collection, Fault Line, was published by Lapwing in 2015, followed by Wind Voices from the same publishing house in 2019. He has appeared at several literary festivals and headlined at a number of poetry events over the last few years.
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Scale of Time
I am a lover of random fun facts. So, when reading the introduction to Otherlands: A World in the Making I was bowled over by this one: ‘If the world’s 4.5 billion years were compacted into a single day, human history would begin in the last two thousandths of a second.’ That is challenging on so many levels, but I will leave you to sift through those.
The book is written by Thomas Halliday and was short-listed for the Wainwright nature writing prize. It was one of two I bought in Liznojan from their Wainwright display (the other was Time On Rock by Anna Fleming which has joined my never-shrinking pile of to-read books). I was surprised Otherlands didn’t win – it was highly commended. Now, of course, I’m going to have to get the winning book, Goshawk Summer by James Aldred.
Otherlands is simply a stunning concept that focuses on the earth’s eco systems back through its history. But this is no dry scientific tome. It is one that is brilliantly crafted into a vivid science-based narrative that guides you through the evolution of our planet in a very approachable way. It puts you on the ground and describes what is around you. Not just the lion-sized bear otters or housecat-sized horses, but the lands and their flora and fauna.
One of my favourite pieces to date concerns the Mediterranean 5 million years ago when it was a 4-kilometre-deep dry chasm in which the islands of Sicily and Malta were just tops of huge mountains. A shifting of tectonic plates saw the land bridge between Africa and Europe open a nine-mile tear through which the Atlantic Ocean poured. That must have been some sight, but of course there were then no humans to watch it. However, it stretches your imagination as you think this through. It took 12 months to fill the Med up to the saddleback ridge linking what was to become Sicily and Malta. How the Med was backfilled between there and Cyprus - well, that’s for you to find out.
This book is a marvellous tale of the shifting eco systems on the earth over billions of years. And they are still going on. It’s why this year I am for the first time I’m now seeing a white egret as a regular visitor on town’s River Exe weir which I see from my window (more of that in a later blog). It’s also why, much as we like to think of the map of the world as an unchanging view of our planet, the forces that have wrought radical changes to land and sea are still pushing Africa northward into Europe.
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