Thursday, April 27, 2006

Walking Zero

Have received my first copy of Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time Along the Prime Meridian (see Books).

In a sense, this is the third book in a series. The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe was a distillation of what I have learned walking the same one-mile path to school for 40 years. The path is through a landscape designed by the great American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, although now more or less reverted to wildness. His spirit and environmental philosophy presides. In the second book, Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain, I use a mountain I have climbed maybe a hundred times to delve into the mysteries of science and religion.

Walking Zero also had its origin in a walk I did dozens of times -- in the imagination.

For many years I taught an earth science course for general studies students called The Earth (a companion to The Universe). One exercise I did with the class was to tape a huge geologic map of Britain on the wall, then lead the students on an imaginary walk across southeastern Britain along the prime meridian, the line of zero longitude. As we "walked," I drew a cross-section of our ups and downs on the blackboard, and with colored chalk we took note (from the map) of the kinds of rocks under our feet. When the walk was done -- English Channel to the Wash -- it was clear there were patterns in the rocks we had walked across, and it was up to the class to explain the patterns with the geological principles we had learned -- deposition, folding, erosion, etc. By the end of the period the blackboard was awash in colored chalk and the class had doped out on its own the geologic history of southeastern England.

As the years passed, the itch grew to actually make the walk. As I explored the possibility, I realized how many sites related to the history of science lay near the meridian. And so at last, a few years ago, I equipped myself with the relevant Ordnance Survey maps and did on the ground what I had so often done in the imagination. Walking Zero is the result. It is grounded in my walk, but ranges more widely to tell the story of how we made the journey from the self-centered universe of our birth into cosmic space and time.

Tom has kindly added a new Gallery of photographs from the walk.

(Phoebe report: Six days, six eggs. Now we wait.)