The current issue of the The Paris Review has an intriguing interview with John McPhee, writer on such diverse subjects as “the atomic bomb, the environmental movement, the U.S. Merchant Marine, Russian art, and fishing. Four books on geology. Three on transport. Two on sports. One book entirely about oranges.” The issue is well worth buying, not just because the interview has the usual behind-the-scenes chat about how a master crafts his or her masterworks, but for a glimpse at this now vanished world of journalism. McPhee’s adoration of obsessive research and travel can’t be funded nowadays, but the thrill makes one understand it will never be lost as long as craftspeople with a love of the world still breathe. We dig his take on human time:
“There’s a line in the book [Annals of the Former World]: If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a quantity like a million years, you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time. And then in a way you do not live at all, but in another way, you live forever.” And I certainly developed this sense of time. You know, people just go along and build houses, they do this and that, they get married, one thing or another — and then an earthquake strikes where they happen to live. The earthquake was in the making all along, but nobody knows this! Human time is so different. The earth is sitting there, it’s just there, bobbing, and now — human time and geological time, bang, hairs crossed! The hairs crossed when gold was discovered in the American River and Sutter’s Mill, and they cross in any earthquake.
“The geologists all say a million years is the smallest unit they can really think in, and you come to understand what that means.”