Standing on a mountain

Frontenac ridge

While out with Raven I really get an opportunity to experience our local landscape up close and personal. It is full of ridges, and the area in the immediate vicinity of our house is among the ridgiest. (I’m surprised spellcheck doesn’t correct that, I thought I was making that word up.) Every cross-country hike is filled with ups and downs, and even the road has enough twists and turns and hilly sections to mess with your sense of direction. We have discovered that the bit of road immediately to the south of our house happens to be the worst bit of road between Sydenham and Westport, as far as steepness. So the topography of the landscape has certainly not gone unnoticed.

On the other hand, I hadn’t given it too much thought, either. I knew that it was part of the Frontenac Axis, that corridor of granite rock that joined up the Canadian Shield with the Adirondacks to the south. But it was only this afternoon, as I stood poised on the rocky backbone of a long narrow ridge, the ground sloping abruptly off to either side of me, that I wondered at the reasons behind this particular topography. Was it simply the result of erosion wearing out the soft parts and leaving the harder rock as ridges? This evening I sat down and did some searching using the power of Google.

Frontenac ridge

Google did not disappoint. I turned up this page, a very easy to read summary of the geological history of the Kingston region, compiled, it seems, by four public school kids after a professor of geology from Queen’s University came and spoke to them about it. (I also found another page, a field trip itinerary for University of Waterloo geology students visiting the Axis, which was full of terminology I didn’t know.)

Apparently, according to this page, the rock around here is primarily a combination of granite and gneiss. About a billion years ago, this area was thrown into upheaval as a chain of mountains were born. At maturity, the mountains here were sharp and rugged, not unlike the Rockies of western North America, and were higher then than the Himalayas are now. The high heat and pressure involved in the process converted the impure sandstone of the region into a hard, banded rock called gneiss. Also during the mountain-building process, magma that escaped the molten core through either volcanoes or fissures was also squeezed and pressurized as it hardened, forming granite. A billion years later, these mountains are still eroding, the granite and gneiss ridges of the Frontenac Axis all that remains of this ancient range.

One billion years is so far beyond the realm of human experience that it’s almost impossible to conceive. It is somewhat humbling to think of the earth on this timescale, having existed for millenia before us, and for millenia after we’re gone, one way or another. We are but just a blip, faster than the blink of an eye to the world’s long life. Unfortunately, we are a very powerful blip, a blood clot that in a fraction of a second makes life-altering changes to the body we inhabit.

Standing on the top of that ridge, thinking perhaps that what I looked out from had once been a mountain peak, that what I looked out across had once been as rugged and majestic as the western mountain ranges I have visited, it was difficult to picture the landscape that dramatically different from its current state. It’s certainly much harder to do here than it would be in the heart of the Appalachians, for instance. What a different place it was, a billion years ago. What a difference time makes.

(click here and here for large-size versions of the panoramic shots)

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3 responses to “Standing on a mountain

  1. If you want a definitive local geological history, check out Nick Eyle’s book, Ontario Rocks.

  2. Thanks, John, I’ll have to check it out!

  3. Nice piece; great blend of science and personal philosophy.

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