Two weeks ago my wife and I spent a very enjoyable evening with some friends swapping life stories and family histories. During the evening our host mentioned that he had written several articles, including some that had been published in the Hindu Times, a prestigious Indian newspaper. He spoke at length about one of these articles, which was concerned with a trip he had made with his family to the place of his birth - Kashmir. His family home had been burnt down in the conflict that emerged in the 1990's and they had fled the country. Even though Kashmir is still quite dangerous he made the journey with his children to show them his country and to see for himself what it was like. I was moved by his story and the next day I found and read his article 'Back to the Valley' and was moved even more by his story. I kept reflecting on what he had said until I realised that he had created an ecology in his present life to revisit and explore his past so that he might, experience and understand more deeply his past and his relationship with it and his family might know him better and appreciate their relationship with his past.
We spent the next four hours driving around the volcano and I was happy as Larry. Why? because just for that few hours I reached back in time to a life I once had and I became a geologist again. By that I mean my interest was engaged like a geologist, I thought like a geologist, I wondered and puzzled like a geologist, I poked around in the rocks and picked rocks up to examine them like a geologist, I saw and observed like a geologist, I speculated on the structures I was seeing, I drew on my knowledge if volcanic geology and my past experiences of seeing volcanic geology to interpret what I was seeing, I tried to make sense of what I saw and tried to explain what I was seeing to my wife (who didn’t know me when I was a geologist and had never seen me in this mode). Actually, she was interested and that encouraged me to say more.
My experience amongst the landscapes and rocks of Mt Tedie triggered something quite deep that was cognitively, emotionally and physically a part of me. A way of being that although I did not practice it: a bit like riding a bike. The experience was overwhelmingly positive I felt pleasure, excitement and joy at being in the landscape and puzzling the geology of that landscape, handling the materials of the landscape and remembering knowledge I had not used for many years. It reminded me that even though I don’t have a label called geologist.. being a geologist is part of my identity and I will carry it to the grave (or at least as long as I am conscious of my past).
This incident in my current life, brought about by the circumstances of our holiday, provided a good example of how the physical things we do in our present can connect back to the past and remind us of who we are, what we have done and how we have felt, far more than an act of remembering alone could ever do. One could argue that I created an ecology for achieving this experience involving the context – the holiday in Tenerife, the affordance – in the geology of the particular place and space, the resources - our taxi driver who provided us with access to the space, the knowledge I had developed in the past and the knowledge available in the public notices, the conversations with my wife, the relationships with the rocks and landscape, with the subject, the spaces – that contained these things and my relationship and interaction with all these things.. and my past.
One of the fundamental principles I learnt as a geology undergraduate, made famous by geologist James Hutton, is the 'present is the key to [understanding] the past'. These two seemingly unconnected incidents in my life conspired to create the belief that exploring our past through the things we do in the present is a subject worth exploring so we will use this idea as the theme for the October 2017 issue of Lifewide Magazine. If you have a story that is relevant to this idea, and you would like to share it through our magazine, please leave a comment or get in touch.
Raina S (2016) Back to the Valley Hindu Times