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The Tracks of Giants

July 23, 2012

This land was formed by the footsteps of giants.

 

They rose from the sea – borne aloft by warm air, carried to the high latitudes where they froze and fell on land where there had been no land earlier, the continents having shifted in the course of time.  There they gathered their forces, for solid land shielded them from the warmth of ocean currents.

 

Finally the mustered army began to flow out.  Their time had come.

 

Frozen earth heralded their coming.  They marched in from the north, breathing cold winds and reaching out with colder hands.  The giants stood two miles tall, their bodies made of ice, and the earth bent under their footsteps.  Where rivers snaked their way through narrow gorges, the giants carved out broad valleys.  They flung gravel and boulders across the face of the earth with equal abandon, scraped fingernails over the surfaces of ancient edifices, filled up valleys and hollows with coarse unsorted sediment.  Like children in a sandbox, they built walls of mounded gravel at the borders of their territory; like scouts, they left trail signs for others to follow – ridges of gravel, pointing towards their destination.

 

Animals fled at their approach, and the trees fled, and so did the grasses and the grasshoppers – all the inhabitants of the earth cramming themselves into the remaining land between the North, which the giants held, and the southern seas.  Some died; some, isolated from their brethren and struggling in new environments, transformed; and some, which had dwelled long in cold and far-away regions, now roamed widely, heavy and shaggy-haired.

 

Even the lands of the sun, which never saw the touch of frost, felt the advance of the giants.  Forests dried and became grasslands, for the giants hoarded much of the world’s water for themselves and the cold winds carried little moisture.  The oceans retreated, land rose from the sea, and everywhere the world was changed.

 

The battle raged for more than two million years.  Earth tilted herself towards the sun, sending warmth onto the fortresses of ice, and giants fell where they stood. Some retreated to the heights of mountains; others regrouped at the poles and waited.  Earth could not hold her position for long. Seasons passed, winter and spring and summer and fall and winter again, varying in length as Earth’s orbit rounded and flattened.  The giants were patient. They bided their time.  And whenever the right conditions came around again, they swiftly advanced once more.

 

The brief-lived creatures of Earth understood little of these changes.  It was always winter, or always summer; the giants held sway, or they hardly merited a thought.  The stronger lived and the weaker died, for that was the way of things; creatures adapted, moved to newly-opened lands and away from lost ones, and learned new patterns of life – there was nothing they could do about the giants themselves.

 

We clever two-footed creatures who have wandered so far from our cradle, we find ourselves now in an age of summer.  The giants have fallen; their melted bodies fill our lakes and oceans.  The land is slowly lifting itself, recovering from the weight of their footsteps.  Ridges of gravel and U-shaped valleys are the ruins of their fortresses; they delved our deepest lakes and smoothed out vast plains.  You can still see the trail signs that marked their advance, the long-nosed drumlins pointing ever southwards.

 

They watch us from the poles and the heights of mountains.  They drop by briefly in winter nights.  They laugh as we spew greenhouse gasses into the air, for as long as the continents stand where they do, we can only warm Earth enough to destroy ourselves and our neighbors.

 

In time the giants will rise again from the waters and march southwards, and the kingdom of winter will be upon us once more. Not tomorrow.  Not in a hundred years, nor a thousand.  But some day, the giants will return.

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