When we think of spirits of particular places we think of them, perhaps, as essential to what that place is. To disturb the place by cutting down trees or diverting a river is to offend them, or even affect their fundamental nature in some way. But if we look at a sufficiently long timescale, and take ourselves out of the human view that 'a long time ago' means the Romans or the Bronze Age, we get a different perspective. In terms of geological time the Stone Age was only yesterday, or even earlier today, and over these longer time perspectives any place that we know now will have altered, perhaps quite violently, over time. A knowledge of basic geology can enable us to 'read' landscape change so that, for example, a particular valley shape indicates glacial action gouging out massive grooves through rock.
I was struck by such thoughts on the beach this weekend below cliffs where the exposed rock faces show layers of sedimentary rock deposited into a shallow sea basin over millennia. This is a slow process of laying down different colours and densities from 'turbid flows' of sand, grit and larger debris and then squashing them together under great pressure to produce these layered rocks. But there is also evidence of more dramatic changes. While some of the cliffs show the layers as neat horizontal stripes in the exposed cliff face, elsewhere the layers are tilted up from the horizontal by as much as 45 degrees. It took quite violent shifts on the Earth's crust to do this. In one place the layering is almost vertical in a feature known as 'Harp Rock' because the near vertical lines in the rock and its overall shape make it look like a giant harp rising up from the beach at right angles to the main cliff face The glacial morraines ('sarnau') that run out into the sea along this coast, and the evidence of a now dried up estuary of a river than now runs into the sea elsewhere, all tell of dramatic changes to the natural environment which, by looking with informed eyes, we can see all around us.
Just as a human soul flourishes then fades and disappears into the spirit pool, but is not quite gone - for all that was leaves a trace of itself - so the spirit of place comes into being, taking on traces of previous such spirits if not the same spirits with shifted shape, for a long or a short time, subject to the forces that shape the world we know, like the gods themselves shading far vaster timescales from one nature to another.
Thinking this, gazing at the layers of rock on a gritty beach with the tide moving up to re-fill the rock pools behind me, time seemed so elastic that this hour was but a moment which stretched far away back to a time when this place was quite other, and forward to some other identity I could not fathom. And the voice of the Son of the Sea in the waves told me that he had seen it all; and though even he was subject to change I could not imagine the time scale over which this was possible.