Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas was thinking about these things in 1578. Deborah Stratman was thinking about them through Du Bartas in 2011, while prying his centuries-old epic poem, “La Semaine,” back into a state of present-day being for her film, “…These Blazeing Starrs!” In 2022, I’m thinking about a film that Stratman is making that doesn’t exist yet except through our discussions hinting that it will involve the poetics of geology, evolution and extinction, archives of mineral collections, and a 1910 Belgian science fiction novel by J.H. Rosny involving sentient rocks known as “les ferromagnétaux” who unleash a rock-borne disease, effectively decentering human life in favor of the mineral realm.
Whether approached through science fiction, eschatological broadsides from the Middle Ages, or hard scientific fact, catastrophic events on Earth go hand in hand with deficiencies, multiplied, into excess: loss of oxygen, loss of sustenance, loss of land, loss of water. Their impact is noted in the vertical stratifications of stone, much as they are in the concentric rings on a tree. In this way, our collective understanding of time can expand and contract with and through geology. The residual imprints of history’s most extreme “rupture moments,” are lost and re-discovered through measurable, residual, imprints written in stone. Our sense of what we think we know about deep time can waver alongside archeological discoveries or the random emergence of fossil fragments, whose mere unearthing can disrupt previously accepted frameworks of human history. Molds of lithified past lives in sedimentary rock, pushing up to the surface, beneath our feet. These are notions of time so expansive they can’t help but seem abstract.
Closer to present day, ceremonial stone landscapes considered sacred by First and Indigenous People in North America often appear in stacked formats: cairns, mounds, standing circles, balanced rocks. Caves, rugged outcroppings, and purpose-built niches have their walls marked up by ancient pigment paintings. They are creation stories and blueprints for survival. Aligned with Indigenous-first worldviews (as they should be) these images were inscribed by visiting spirits and not by human hands. Lean-to slabs of rock sometimes contain openings known as “spirit holes” allowing passage between the worlds of living and dead, and huge boulders split in two are ritualistically backfilled with smaller pebbles, charged with meaning in the form of prayers, requests. These insertions—stacks, cracks, grains of pigment, subterranean spaces to crawl into—are not only preservation mechanisms to imprint knowledge on the earth, but activation points for emergent ways of becoming. They are stone-bound landscapes heavy with “surface tension” that challenge consensus reality. The earth itself behaves as a giant “speaking stone”—a rock archive.
Accounts of thunderous booms rolling up from the underground around Moodus, CT, began around the time Du Bartas was writing poems about portentious comets. Puritans invading the area spoke with the Wangunk people and discovered that these noises reached back to long before European invasion. The Wangunk’s original placename of “Machemoodus,” as it turns out, was a massive clue: it translates to “place of bad noises.” Explanations for the booms vary between Indigenous legends about a volatile god sat on an emerald throne, the knee-quaking guilt attached to an angry Christian god transported to “savage” and “unsettled” lands, and an alchemist dispatched from England who attributed the noises to a giant carbuncle fossil in the bowels of the earth which he shrunk by way of magic. Eventually, the Moodus sounds wove their way into H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror.