Hutton’s central insight was that humans live enfolded by deep time. It leaves its impression upon us, and we impress upon it our anxieties, our inventions, our desires. The majesty of a planetary mechanism that has ‘no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end’, as Hutton described it, has been troubled by the cataclysmic consequences of modernity.
Whereas Hawkes described a land shaped by a combination of geological process, organic life and human activity, we have decisively shifted the balance. But the need to imagine deep time in light of our present-day concerns is more vital than ever. Deep time is not an abstract, distant prospect, but a spectral presence in the everyday. The irony of the Anthropocene is that we are conjuring ourselves as ghosts that will haunt the very deep future.