Our Ever Changing World (August 21 2013)

[Part 6 of 14.  Solovki 2013]

On Solovki, I’m reminded at every turn of the ever-changing, ever-shifting world in which we live.   Even the rock under our feet is not always as solid and sedentary as we like to believe.

It is now centuries and centuries since the last glaciers retreated from atop the geological formations that now make up the Solovetskie islands.   Yet, the effect of the glaciers is still being felt.

As in many places, the weight of the glaciers compressed the stone of the islands, and since the glaciers departed the islands have been experiencing a rebound effect, rising ever so slowly as the weight of the ice no longer holds them down.   As a result, the islands are getting, bit by bit, a little higher out of the water.   (And scientists talk about this a great deal with Greenland too, as the ice cover melts away there, freed from the weight, Greenland will rise up.)

Now, you can’t see or feel this rise day-to-day, but you can see its effects on things that humans have built.

When Russians built a church on the Big Zayatskii Island, they also built a little harbor of stone walls for boats to weather storms.   Once there were five slips for boats, but today the island has rebounded to the point that there is but a trickle of water that runs through the entry way.   [The picture below shows the now-narrow entry way to the harbor and the berths for the boats, outlined in stone, are now dry land.]

Old harbor Big Zayatskii Island

The same is true of an amazing fish pond that was built several hundred years ago.  Up the coast a kilometer or two from the monastery complex is the Filipp fish pond.   Built in the 16th century, the pond is formed by a small bay on the island that the monks cut off from the rest of the White Sea by building a wall of stones.   They did this to create a saltwater enclosure where they could keep fish they caught fresh before eating them.   The stone wall was built ingeniously more or less at the surface level of the water to let in some water to keep the pond from going stale but at the same time to keep the fish in and prevent them from escaping.

If you go to see the fish pond today, the wall sits well above the water level, the result of the island rising up after the glaciers.

It’s a reminder that as we plan for our future on this planet, we have to plan for change:  in the climate, in the flora and fauna, and in the landscapes and geologies we move on.   Change, Solovki reminds us, is as constant in the non-human world as the human.

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