How to Time Travel Using Old People, Old Trees And Old Coins

How to Time Travel Using Old People, Old Trees And Old Coins

I got thinking recently about things that move slowly through time, connecting people and keeping memories alive with stories. I think there’s value in just sitting with these time machines and letting your mind travel with them; sharing their memories, imagining the ever-changing landscapes they stood sentry over or the hands and pockets they flowed through on their journey to now.

In my favourite book, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding and his pals discover the happiness to be had over a simple Summer in small-town Illinois, 1928. Old-timer, Colonel Freeleigh is a veteran of the Civil War who, despite his failing body, enjoys recounting his many stories to the boys when they visit. Douglas refers to him as a time machine because his tales transport them back to wherever and whenever in history his stories might occur.

Bradbury reminds us of the importance of memories and the stories that carry them through time; not just those we tell ourselves but those we share with others. I’ve always liked that idea; that older generations are like living time machines and it’s worth listening to them when they talk because when they depart, so do their memories along with our ability to travel through time next to them. It’s why my youngest asked his late great-grandma: “Great-grandma, did you know any cowboys?”

There are other living time machines of course; I met one that may well have known a cowboy just the other day: A Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Sequoia) at the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire. Planted in 1863 it towered over most other trees in the park, and that’s saying something at Westonbirt, and yet is still a baby amongst it’s piers. Giant Sequoias can live for over 3000 years but even this can be beaten by a 4000-year-old Yew on North Wales that took seed roughly whilst the Bronze Age was getting into full swing. Then there’s the nearly 9550-year-old Spruce in Sweden that would have likely witnessed the last Ice Age. When you place your hand on a tree you are connecting with a living organism that likely sprouted before your great grandparents and will outlive your children. Spending a few hours in nature not only lowers your blood pressure, reduces stress, improves energy and boosts your immune system, it also gives you a direct and physical connection to pre-history. You don’t get that on Facebook.

One of my literary mentors is the Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. I always had a hankering for a coin that bore his face and name, something I could connect to that age-old wisdom and turn over in my pocket to remind me how to act in decisive moments: Memento Mori: Remember you must die. In other words, do the right thing.

Alex obliged me on my last birthday, my very own coin from the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Only this one had Marcus’s father, Antonius Pius, pictured on it as he was the Emperor who passed the baton onto his adopted son, Marcus when he died. There’s something about the patina on an old coin that conveys a sense of it’s journey, the smoothed surface of the soft alloy that has passed through countless hands, paid for innumerable (and perhaps nefarious) goods and services, nestled in leather pouches or silk purses and found it’s way across land, sea and a very long time, to me.

There is much to be said of the philosophy of Stoicism (honestly, I could rattle on for hours) and perhaps I would have rather seen Marcus’s face on that coin? Not a bit of it. Marcus would have said “Amor fati” or “love your fate”. Everything that happens, good or bad is an opportunity. Antonius Pius’s final word before passing the mantle to his son was simply “equanimity”; face everything with a calm, undisturbed composure. Good advice for emperors, time travellers and us.


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