As my train wavered up the Peninsula to my temp-apartment in San Francisco, I was thinking about batholiths. I was thinking about Matthew, who is 809 miles away in Seattle: 13 hours and 4 minutes driving, 2 hours and 17 minutes by plane. This distance is in the middle range for us–we’ve been as far away as continents and as Olympia to Seattle in the times we’ve been apart.
But this time is tougher than usual, because it will be the last time we have to be so far away from each other. We are a month from him joining me here in the Bay Area, and it made me think about what is hard about long distance and the more unexpected hardness about getting used to being in the same place. One of the reasons I love geology is it gives me big, satisfying metaphors for these kinds of feelings. Thinking about that distance and time made me think about very old, very large rocks called batholiths; Half-Dome is an example.
Batholiths start out as magma pushing up from the great stream of molten rock running under the surface of our world. That is like choosing to step out of the flow of humanity and into a committed relationship.
They push out and up and then solidify, getting their shape from what they are made of and what is around them. That’s learning to be a couple.
Then they sit there, under incredible pressure. Tons and tons of rock, mountains and oceans and comets and earthquakes, they sit under a layer of rock existing under that pressure.
That’s being in a long distance relationship. Cohesive rock stays the same shape; like Matthew and I have stayed the same shape in the 10 years we have known each other, much of which we’ve lived apart either because we were in high school, college, or first jobs far away.
After all that time, batholiths blossom to the surface. They see the sun for the first time, get rain on their faces, all the dirt that was keeping them under pressure swept away by the fast forces of earthquakes or the steady pressure of time’s weathering. That’s seeing each other again and moving back in.
This is where the unexpected stuff happens. A surfaced batholith begins to react to that lack of pressure. It pushes upward and makes a huge dome. Even though it knew its shape under the pressure of the ground, even though it kept that shape for so long, that wasn’t its only shape. It had potential energy to be so much bigger; and once it is out from under the pressure of the surrounding ground, it gets to.
Its surface pieces often crack, splinter, flake as it rises up. But it keeps growing upwards and upwards, turning into a great arc pointing at the sky. Because relationships under pressure are incredibly strong, but they store energy. They’re meant for sharing energy. That energy is going to do amazing things once we’re not in the pressure of being apart.
“In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.” ― Barack Obama