Saturday, October 07, 2006

Global Tectonics

"Like all writing, writing about geology is masochistic, mind-fracturing, self-enslaved labor--a description that intensifies when the medium is rock." -- John McPhee, Annals of the Former World

And yet, he does it quite well, and managed to snag a Pulitzer for his incredible tome about the slabs and basins and history-in-rock of this land of ours. I should say, "ours."

The book commences on the George Washington Bridge -- hey! my neck of the woods! I mean "my" of course -- with McPhee and the first of many geologist friends contemplating the Triassic period, "when New Jersey and Mauretania were of a piece." What a delightful notion. It kind of puts the whole Long Island - Jersey rivalry in perspective.

This book is everything I've hoped and always known it would be. I'm so glad I'm reading it. Who's with me??? Come on, now! What are you doing that's so all-fire important that you can't grab a copy of Annals...? My edition is ISBN: 0-374-51873-4. Peel your eyes away from YouTube for a minute and delight with me!

In this first bit he talks about how building roads, wielding interstate highways like weapons that cut swaths across the continent, has opened up the earth for geologists because suddenly in a roadcut history is revealed. But it's still a "knife wound," geologist Karen Kleinspehn tells him. She continues:

"One car. Coast to coast. People do it now without thinking much about it. Yet it's a most unusual kind of personal freedom--particular to this time span, the one we happen to be in. It's an amazing, temporary phenomenon that will end. We have the best highway system in the world. It lets us do what people in no other country can do. And it is also an ecological disaster."
-- from Annals of the Former World p. 25

Other highlights of yesterday's reading included a Brigham Young mention and a rumination on the geology professor's lot in life, getting through to the typical "Rocks for Jocks" class. Finding hidden in there the one or two who are called to this profession. Who will read the earth's history. Who will discover the hidden layers.

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