Authors’ journey leads back to selves
L. Sue Baugh reflects on her journeys while sitting her home in Evanston. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Book Title: “Echoes of Earth: Finding Ourselves in the Origins of the Planet”
Published by Wild Stone Arts, Echoes of the Earth runs 212 pages and contains 200 color photos and an illustrations, including an elaborate time line.
The book is available on amazon.com and wildstonearts. com
Author background: L. Sue Baugh’s career has been in publishing as writer, editor and an illustrator, in fields that include science, language arts, social studies, business and medical writing.
She is working on a second volume of the project to focus on the people and indigenous cultures she and colleague Lynn Martinelli encountered on their journey.
What others are saying: “… Sue Baugh and Lynn Martinelli guide us on a passage into the rocks of Deep Time and into our own hearts and minds” – Jonathan Turk, scientist, explorer and author of The Raven’s Gift.
Updated: March 15, 2013 11:56AM
EVANSTON — Standing at the base of the Grand Canyon, close to an ancient stone referred to as the Vishnu Schist, author L. Sue Baugh couldn’t help but hear the whispers.
With rumbles of thunder in the air, Baugh rafted 23 miles down the Colorado River to reach the stone, whose age has been placed at 1.7 billion years.
“This is like the basement stone of the United States,” she said, recalling the experience in the living room of her Evanston home.
The account appears in Baugh’s unusual book, “Echoes of the Earth: Finding Ourselves in the Origins of the Planet.”
Years in the making, the book describes Baugh and colleague Lynn Martinelli’s quest to some of the most remote parts of the Earth in search of the world’s oldest rocks.
Taking summers off between 2001 and 2003, the two traveled to ancient sites in Western Australia, Greenland and Northwest Canada.
They traveled by camper, car, a fishing boat about the size of a bathtub in freezing Icelandic waters, and float plane to reach the remote places.
Baugh, 67, said some of the impetus for the book came from what she saw happening around her childhood home in Crystal Lake. In the 1950s and 1960s, the area had plenty of open land, and you could even forage for wild foods, she recalled.
By the 1980s and 1990s, development had swallowed most of that up. As a result, “you could no longer walk out in the open country and hear and see all those other voices,” she said.
The capacity to hear those voices came on the ancient rocks project, where Baugh, a writer, editor and illustrator, was able to combine her love of art, science, and the wisdom of other cultures.
The two women made the first stop of their journey in Western Australia, where the two were told they would not have Internet or cell phone service.
The women would be supplied with shortwave radios, “but the nearest doctor is about 200 miles away by plane,” they were advised.
They trekked some 300 miles out into the Outback to Mt. Narryer, which contains some of the world’s oldest rocks.
The rocks there, tiny zircons smaller than grains of sand, are dated at 3.6 to 4.4 billion years old.
A geologist, Dr. David Nelson, regarded as an expert on Mt. Narryer, appeared taken back at first when the women told him they intend to approach the sites as artists – “with no preconceptions, just visit the land and spend time listening,” Baugh recounts in the book.
“You know, I try to get my students to do the same thing,” Nelson discloses. “I tell them ‘Don’t just study the site; Take time to commune with it.”
As their exploration unfolds, the women find they are doing just that.
Conversation slows. Their photographs capture their ability to look, roots pushing through solid rock and the intricate patterns carved in stone,
“There is less conversation; the photographs seemed to be writing a story of their own,” Baugh writes about the metamorphasis. “The mountain’s more intimate faces are teaching us a new meaning of the word ‘slow.’”
They absorb more lessons on other stops. In Greenland, on Akilia Island, “if the deep calm at Mt. Narryer had steadied us,” writes Baugh, “Akilia overwhelms us with its stunning formations.”
The sculpted formations, at 3.8 billion years old, are offset by rugged lichen and small bright flowers whose names they don’t know. How to capture that?
“It is on Akilia that we begin to inhabit our work as artists,’’ says Baugh about the stunning pictures they bring back.
Back in the United States, in the Blacktail Canyon part of the Grand Canyon, Baugh confronted a mystery: some one billion years of Earth history is missing.
That is the gap in years on a wall of stone where a younger sandstone layer rests directly above the far older (1.7 billion years) schist, said Baugh.
For Baugh, the difference stirs reflection about loss in our own lives.
“We wonder if such losses are irretrievable or if something persists after all that time. Maybe a true artist’s work is going after what is lost,’’ she muses.
More reflections on the women’s journey bring surprising connections between humans and the ancient stones, said Baugh.
The mineral apatite, found in one of the oldest rocks, makes up most of humans’ compact bones and teeth.
“The similarities are fitting,’’ Baugh said. ”Four and a half billion years ago, minerals were used to build the first rocky crust of Earth and – eons later – to build the solid structures of evolving life,’’ she says.
“We expected to come back only with images for a photo-essay and not expect to be transformed as artists, nor to discover that our human origins lie hidden in the story of the oldest stones.” ~.