Wien: Searching for the golden spike

by Elise Wien | 2/22/17 2:10am

In my geography class, we learn that geologists use golden spikes to demarcate the beginning of a new geologic epoch. This is not metaphorical — they literally drive golden spikes into the rock.

We read:

“With this approach, some specific change in a sedimentary archive — like the beginning of that green-gray marl bed in an Italian quarry — is chosen to represent the transition between geological intervals and is named as a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point, or GSSP. Practicalities allowing, a golden metal marker may then be hammered into the relevant layer of rock: for that reason, GSSPs are often referred to as ‘golden spikes.’ The interval is defined by the change in the rock record where the golden spike is fixed. The timing of the interval is then derived by investigating the date of this tangible alteration in the composition of the earth … if the Anthropocene too is to be based on a golden spike, in line with this preferred approach, then a signal that represents its beginning must be picked out from among the multitude of recent transformations in the makeup of the planet.” — Jeremy Davies, “The Birth of the Anthropocene.”

Davies argues that we are within the Anthropocene, an era in which human activities play as big a role in shaping the earth as certain other natural cycles (e.g., river movements, glaciation). Part of the issue with this is the process of determining when the Anthropocene began (if it has begun already). It is, of course, more complicated than this, but I’m working with a spatial limit here. There is a tension: how do we place a golden spike while we’re living in the epoch? This is all about looking at the present from the future, but I have trouble imagining a future so far ahead.

I think I’m so struck by the concept of driving golden spikes into rock because it seems so un-scientific. I am reminded of consecration, the railroad spike of the First Transcontinental Railroad, piercing an adolescent’s ears — my mother said I could get my ears pierced when I got my period or when I turned 13, whatever came first. Looking back, this is sort of creepy. At what point can you adorn yourself? When you get your period. The analog of piercing and penetration as we move from childhood to adolescence speaks to how little, maybe, we have left behind.

I ask Corinne and Kayuri if they ever had any rites of passage. The conversation goes as follows:

Me: hello / did either of u have rites of passage as kids? / religious ceremonies / baptisms / special birthdays etc?

Kayuri: I had a big 16th birthday party lol

Me: oh kaaay / theme?

Kayuri: No theme just like all of my family and family friends / ’Twas nice / And when you’re a baby your aunt is supposed to roll you over and make you cry ceremoniously / Idk why

Me: dope / do u remember? / or u were told?

Kayuri: Told I was straight 4 days old

Me: makes sense

Kayuri: But I’ve seen it happen to other babies / Weird


Corinne: I was supposed to have a berry fast after my first period / But I didn’t / And I still haven’t got my name yet bc of colonialism / U kno?

Me: is a berry fast where you don’t eat berries? / for how long? / also wut why?

Corinne: U only eat berries for like 4 days

Me: I feel like u told us / dank

Corinne: And put ash on ur forehead

Me: poop would be amazing / wait why no name?

Corinne: Bc I haven’t got it yet or had my ceremony / Bc I’ve been at college forever

Me: i c / what age is that usually at?

Corinne: Baby / Youth

Me: oh my

Corinne: Is ok / I just need it before I die / I have it I just don’t know it yet

Me: oh / i like that

Corinne: Yah

Me: were u baptized?

Corinne: Idk my name / Yah I was baptized and had my first holy communion

Elise: k.

Clearly, the formalized rites didn’t have the biggest effect on us. They’re delayed, they never happen, their significance is lost altogether. We go on creating our own rites:

A couple weeks ago at midnight, we battled in the campus-wide snowball fight on the green. My glasses became useless early on, so I took them off and pocketed them. I don’t exercise much and I miss contact sports, so any body, whether I knew it or not, became fair game. Roommate Corinne tackled me into a snow bank (she has an older brother) and Kayuri shoved snow into my face (she has a younger brother). We were out of breath by the end of it, and Corinne and I returned to the room to dry off, while Kayuri went, dripping, back to the library to finish a problem set.

This is the year we graduate. I will be moving to Boston, Kayuri to New York and Corinne to Michigan. I have trouble imagining a future in which we do not live together. I have trouble imagining a future in which women cannot shove snow into their beloveds’ faces. I have trouble with stagnancy and desire. I have a memory of lying in the snow on the front lawn of my house. I was 5, maybe 6, and closing my eyes mid-snow angel. I have a memory of my mother running outside, frantic — “you can’t fall asleep out here, you’ll freeze, you nearly scared me to death.” I have trouble imagining a future that does not look like my memories.

The snowball fight was one of those moments of such bliss that it forces us to think about the future. We think: “I am taking stock, I will remember this moment.” And if not through memory alone, then I’ll enter it in the geologic timescale by printing it here, and marking the moment with its own little golden spike: | .