Elves and Geology

Niagara Gorge Whirlpool, Downstream of Niagara Falls
I used to think it would take six-hundred years to tunnel under the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty. Oh, Andy loved Geology, I guess it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really, pressure, and time. 
- Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redepmption

I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

White Mountains of New Hampshire
I'm with Bilbo Baggins. I love mountains. Before we had kids my wife and I would often spend summer weekends hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It's certainly had an impact of the campaign settings I've used and created - forested mountains of moderate height, settlements in the notches between them. Lots of rivers and lakes. I look at pictures of the Basin and Range terrain that can be found at west and it is a very alien landscape to my New Englander's eyes.

Geological time is slow time. The Rocky Mountains are a young mountain range, over well over fifty million years old, though shaped into their current appearance by glaciers.The Appalachian Mountains, of which my beloved White Mountains are a part of, are, by comparison, elder statesmen of mountains - close to 500 million years in age.

My family recently returned from a vacation in Niagara Falls, Canada. It is hard not to look at the Falls and not come away awestruck. Geologically, the water of the Niagara River is carving its gorge in lightning speed: according to Wikipedia, Niagara Falls were formed only 10,000 years ago and erosion has carved out the Niagara Gorge and moved the Falls 6.8 miles southward from their starting position. A film at the Falls discussed how quickly the Falls were formed - likely over a span of days or even hours.

There are other notable features of our world that happened within the blink of an eye, geologically speaking. For example the Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis posits that around 5600 BC the Mediterranean flooded over the Bosporus, connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and possibly accounting for numerous flood myths. Though further back in time, Zanclean Flood Hypothesis posits that the Mediterranean itself was filled rather quickly as the Gibraltar Strait was flooded.

Returning from our trip I reflected on how in many fantasy settings there are beings whose lifespan is a noticeable fraction of that or could even potentially exceed that - various forms of intelligent undead, elves, and dragons being the obvious candidates. This has me considering the possibility that such beings might shape their world certain ways - diverting a river to create a deep gorge to create a natural border, linking a lake to the oceans, etc. It could also lead to some interesting ruins like coastal cities where the sea has receded several miles away (or gone on to cover it), And at the very least it presents a reminder as to how different the perception of a long-lived race would be.


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