Changing the landscape retroactively

“The landscape changes” was the title of the text my daughter had to memorize for geography last week, to be repeated aloud in front of the class the next day.

“Over time the landscapes changes”, she practiced at home. “By nature and by man. It can be big things, like earthquakes and floods or small things, like the wind scratching a rock or our footsteps wearing away a street.”


I nodded enthusiastically.
“Now I also have to say something new?” she told me. “Do you know something that nobody else knows?”‘

Right, I was familiar with that part of the exercise. Last time when we were memorizing “The air”, she invented: “The air follows us everywhere we go, like a detective a thief.”

She didn’t want to hear that saying something new, something that is not in her book, is not the same as inventing something new. The teacher had corrected her though, so I felt I had to try it again: “It’s not that you have to invent something completely new, something that has never been said before by anybody…”
“Of course it is!” she interrupted me impatiently. “How boring if we only have to say things that have been said already.”
Yes yes, I had to agree, terribly boring indeed.
“So, do you know something?” she asked again “The teacher didn’ t like the thing I invented last time.”


I was thinking about this while I stood on top of one of the highest mountains of the Netherlands: Mount Saint Peter.

I was expecting a sort of bird’s eye view on my hometown, the medieval city of Maastricht; a sort of toy city view with pointing little church towers cut in two by a silvery, meandering Meuse.

In reality it remained a human’s eye view: no overview, but suburbs from the side, blocking everything else. The same on the other side, no silvery ribbon, but the grayish rainwater of the river filling my whole visual field. No possibility to go any higher: 108 meters was the maximum.


Luckily I knew that immediately under my feet a far more spectacular landscape was hidden. A labyrinth of over 20,000 hand-made tunnels crossing Saint Peter’s soft, almost moldable limestone, stretching out underneath the most southern point of the Netherlands into Belgium,  underneath my hometown, underneath our garden, surfacing among other places in our cellar – including our house in the infinite, secret sand-castle world underneath our feet.


Limestone, a soft yellowish sedimentary rock composed of skeletal fragments of marine organisms – gigantic sea turtles and mosasaurs just to name a few – deposited in the region between 80-65,5 million years ago, when a shallow, subtropical sea covered a big part of Europe.



Discovery of the first Mosasaur at Maastricht

The mount is crammed with fossils and so is the Natural Museum of History of Maastricht, since from a very early age man started extracting its yellow stone, piercing the mount and its surroundings in every possible way, bumping into one fossil after another – an excavation to dream of for prehistoric archaeologists.


Nowadays the mount itself is a museum, as its tunnels are filled with man-made sculptures and drawings applied by men that hid there during periods of unrest or by men who went there out of their own free will on their only free day because they had the uncontrollable need to turn the soft yellowish stone into their own creations.


An underground landscape that had definitely changed over time, I pondered standing on a mount as porous as a gigantic sea sponge, but then it’s chronological layers had been invaded again by mankind… changing the landscape retroactively.

This is only possible with mountains, I thought, actually maybe only with mountains made out of limestone.

That’s what I should have told my daughter!
It is invented but not too much.


…isn’t it?


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Image credits

(1) BIT1982 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
(2) King Kalakaua [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
(3) Beyond the Frontier [CC-BY-2.0]
(4) Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed [CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl], via Wikimedia Commons
(5) James Carter Beard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
(6) G. R. Levillaire [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
(7) Beyond the Frontier [CC-BY-2.0]

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