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Monique Keiran: Geological change is slow but relentless

We live in a part of the world for which many other people envy us.

We live in a part of the world for which many other people envy us. We have ocean, mountains, beach, forests, an awesome year-round climate for a place just south of the 49th parallel, and a number of big-town services and restaurants for what is, in many ways, a small town.

And on one of those perfect summer or fall or spring or even winter days, you just have to say to yourself: “Seriously, let’s just stop the clock — and the moon and the stars and the sun — and hold this moment. Forever.”

Alas, things change. The neighbours’ cute kids grow up — they no longer watch, fascinated, every time you mow your lawn. (They used to like machines. Now they like only their smartphones.)

The bus schedule and route that were so handy for your out-of-the-way office have been discontinued. Your doctor has retired and you haven’t yet found a replacement.

Even our surroundings change. More brambles and Daphne laureola grow in the nearby park. Your favourite trail that once meandered through the woods now resembles a two-lane highway. That old house and farm at the end of the street have made way for a new subdivision.

And that is at the rate of human change. Some change happens slowly, at geological time scales, so gradually that we notice it only when an oldtimer or a historic photograph brings it to our attention. Take the spectacular Dallas Road parks, for example.

The seashore along the parks is not a museum exhibit. It changes constantly. Geologists estimate that waves and weather shave about 12 centimetres from the cliff-top areas every year.

The First Nations who lived for centuries along the cliffs called them Heel-ng-ikun or Falling-away Bank — acknowledging how winter seas would pulverize sections of the bluffs they called home. In the century after Europeans first settled here, about 30 metres of land have fallen into the ocean east of Finlayson Point, by Beacon Hill.

At one time, residents faced the real threat of parts of the historic Ross Bay Cemetery being swept away with the tides. Each year, the cliff edges ever closer to the homes facing Dallas Road.

Many of the pathways and staircases constructed into the cliffs and along the water by Dallas Road have changed the pattern of rainwater runoff and weakened sections of the cliffs. Removal of logs from beaches early last century permitted waves to pound unimpeded at the bluffs’ bases, eating away at soft sedimentary rocks and scouring durable igneous rocks.

Local kids who dug dens into the soft rock of the cliffs by Clover Point for many decades also encouraged slumping. Seawalls built to protect the shoreline served to weaken the cliffs instead and caused the beaches to deteriorate further.

As late as the 2000s, the city was trying to stop geology and forestall further erosion and loss of beaches. It dumped six tonnes of gravel on the beach below Holland Point to stabilize it and maintain it as much as possible as we prefer to remember it.

However, waves and currents carried much of the rock farther along the coast. Even now, the rehabilitated beach areas are only gravel — a sterile environment for such a biologically productive place.

Thousands of us use this incredible parkland resource every day; a thousand or so of us live along it. Our desire to capture our environment and freeze it forevermore in its current state is a very human impulse, but it is neither realistic nor doable. In the battle against unrelenting natural processes like tides, storms, erosion, and even changing climate and sea level, the best we can do is ensure we don’t make things worse.

It’s true — 100 or even 200 years from now, our waterfront parklands might be reduced to sand, gravel and a few basalt outcrops, and the buffer between homes and cliff edge could become disconcertingly narrow.

But we live in an ever-changing world, not a museum.

Enjoy this brief moment in geological time.

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