Monday, January 20, 2014

The Grand Canyon of Westbrook

The Grand Canyon of Westbrook is a large volume of negative space out behind the Travelodge (the landmark visible in the photo below, on the Canyon's north rim). I've been past it hundreds of times in my lifetime, but unless you walk out the railroad tracks to stand on the edge, it's easy to miss. The shopping centers and four-lane arterial roads that surround it do a remarkable job of obscuring the city's biggest hole in the ground.

Some online research reveals that the rock of the quarry is gneiss, rock that originally formed as marine clay and slate about 450 million years ago. It was the Ordovician Period, and the mud that would eventually become coastal Maine was accumulating in a shallow subtropical sea surrounding a chain of volcanic islands in the southern hemisphere.
450 million years is a long time. Enough time for seafloor mud to harden into slate, then for that slate to fold onto itself and plunge miles deep into the earth while brand-new Appalachian Mountains rise to the height of Himalayas near the equator, plus enough time for those Himalayan-sized mountains to wear away to White Mountain-sized nubs.
450 million years is nine million times longer than the amount of time it took Blue Rock Industries to make this hole. But now that we're thinking in terms of hundreds of millions of years, in terms of rocks that drifted halfway across the globe and sank four miles under long-gone mountains and resurfaced here, it doesn't seem like such a big hole any longer, in the grand scheme of things, does it?

Just a very temporary divot on a landscape even more temporarily known as "Westbrook," "Maine."

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