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O moment, Time’s diamond—I am all trifles and wretched cares outside your gate.

I was always baffled by those words, written by the French Symbolist poet Paul Valery, who died in 1945. A few times a year they echoed around in my head, apparently randomly, taunting me to make sense of them. But I never could, exactly. That is, until I sat down with Emmet Gowin’s most recent book of photography, Changing the Earth, a collection of aerial images published in 2002 by the Yale University Art Gallery. The book is a series of photographs of places that have been changed by human activities; not just changed, but transformed on a scale that is nearly impossible to envision while we stand in our skin, so earthbound we might as well be covered in suits of lead. . .

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